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A newly discovered Gigantopithecus fauna from Sanhe Cave, Chongzuo, Guangxi, South China
Update time: 11/03/2009
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ChangZhu JinContact Information, DaGong Qin2, WenShi Pan2, ZhiLu Tang1, JinYi Liu1, Yuan Wang1, ChengLong Deng3, YingQi Zhang1, Wei Dong1 and HaoWen Tong1

(1)  Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, 100044, China
(2)  School of Life Sciences, Peking University, Beijing, 100871, China
(3)  Paleomagnetism and Geochronology Laboratory, Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, 100029, China
Abstract Among the most important faunas in the Late Cenozoic, the Gigantopithecus faunas have received a good deal of attention. The Gigantopithecus fauna recently discovered in Sanhe Cave consists of more than 80 mammal species, including cf. Hominidae, Pongo sp., Hylobates sp., Sinomastodon yangziensis, Stegodon preorientalis, Cervavitus fenqii, Dicoryphochoerus ultimus and Sus xiaozhu. It is the southernmost Gigantopithecus fauna found so far in China. Its geological age is estimated to be Early Pleistocene based on the fauna and stratigraphic correlation. The significant increase in the estimated body sizes of Ailuropoda, Gigantopithecus and Tapirus shows that the Sanhe fauna is middle Early Pleistocene, later than those from Wushan and Liucheng (early Early Pleistocene). Paleomagnetic dating of the fossil-bearing strata in Sanhe Cave gives an age of approximately 1.2 Ma. The fauna is characterized by tropical-subtropical forest types, including Pongo sp., Tupaia sp., Ia sp., Typhlomys intermedius, etc., and it lacks Palaearctic types. It is a typical tropical forest fauna, suggesting an environment with a lush forest and a warm and humid climate. The discovery of the Sanhe Gigantopithecus fauna is significant for establishing the chronological stages of the Gigantopithecus faunas in China, and for discussing their origin, evolution and dynamics.

Keywords Chongzuo - Guangxi - Sanhe Cave - early Pleistocene -  Gigantopithecus fauna

Supported by Key Knowledge Innovation Project of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (KZCX2-YW-106) and National Basic Research Program of China (Grant No. 2006CB806400)
    As one of the most important Quaternary mammalianfaunas, the Gigantopithecus fauna attracts much attention from Chinese scientists. In 1935, the Dutch paleontologist G.H.R. Von Koenigswald found a large cf. Hominidae lower molar in a Chinese traditional medicine store in Hongkong. The length of the molar is twice that of a human molar, and its occlusal surface area is 3 to 4 times larger. Von Koenigswald believed it to be a large relative of Pithecanthropus and therefore created a new genus Gigantopithecus and species Gigantopithecus blacki[1]. This discovery caused a sensation in paleontological circles. There was heated debate about whether this animal was an ape or a human, and about its height and size. The Gigantopithecus tooth was mixed with other “dragon bones”, such as those of Pongo, Ailuropoda, and Stegodon, without any information on the stratum and locality of the specimen. Scholars referred to this assemblage as the “Drugstore fauna”. Twenty years later (1956―1960), Pei Wenzhong, a famous Chinese Quaternary paleoanthropologist, carried out a largescale investigation with his colleagues at cave sites in Guangxi. They discovered Gigantopithecus and associated mammalian fossils in Quaternary sedimentary sequences in caves in Tahsin, Liucheng, and a few other localities. Chow[2] thought that the mastodon and the small sized tapirs from the Liucheng Gigantopithecus Cave were more primitive than the typical middle Pleistocene Ailuropoda-Stegodon fauna. He considered its age to be early Pleistocene (or the latest Pliocene) and named it the Gigantopithecus fauna. In the 1950s, there were only a few Gigantopithecus localities known with exact stratigraphic control. Today, the Gigantopithecus fauna is known from 12 localities distributed across 5 provinces in South China, in association with some important fossils and cultural relics of early humans. There has been considerable progress in the study of the geology, paleontology, paleoanthropology and chronology, and this provides a new perspective regarding the characteristics, age and environmental background of the Gigantopithecus fauna and its status in human evolutionary history. Due to the lack of systematic and comprehensive research on faunas in south China there have been controversies over the origin, evolutionary characteristics, age, and ecological environment of the Gigantopithecus fauna.
    Recently, Pan Wenshi, a professor from Peking University (PKU), discovered Gigantopithecus fossils from Boyue Cave in Chongzuo Ecological Park, Guangxi. Since then the PKU Chongzuo Biodiversity Research Institute has cooperated with the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) to carry out further investigations, leading to the discovery of new strata with Gigantopithecus fossils in Sanhe Cave, Wuming Mountain. After trial excavation, a plethora of higher primate fossils, including Gigantopithecus, Pongo sp., Hylobates sp., Macaca sp., Presbytis sp., and cf. Hominidae have been collected, as well as other associated mammalian fossils. The newly discovered fossils provide important new evidence for the evolution and extinction of Gigantopithecus and the biochronological stages of the Gigantopithecus fauna.
This paper was published in "Chinese Science Bulletin | March 2009 | vol. 54 | no. 5 | 788-797"

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