Vanished ape found in ancient Chinese tomb giving clues to its disappearance

first_img Email Sign up for our daily newsletter Get more great content like this delivered right to you! Country Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.: Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1911.272 (Detail) Country * Afghanistan Aland Islands Albania Algeria Andorra Angola Anguilla Antarctica Antigua and Barbuda Argentina Armenia Aruba Australia Austria Azerbaijan Bahamas Bahrain Bangladesh Barbados Belarus Belgium Belize Benin Bermuda Bhutan Bolivia, Plurinational State of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba Bosnia and Herzegovina Botswana Bouvet Island Brazil British Indian Ocean Territory Brunei Darussalam Bulgaria Burkina Faso Burundi Cambodia Cameroon Canada Cape Verde Cayman Islands Central African Republic Chad Chile China Christmas Island Cocos (Keeling) Islands Colombia Comoros Congo Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Cook Islands Costa Rica Cote d’Ivoire Croatia Cuba Curaçao Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Djibouti Dominica Dominican Republic Ecuador Egypt El Salvador Equatorial Guinea Eritrea Estonia Ethiopia Falkland Islands (Malvinas) Faroe Islands Fiji Finland France French Guiana French Polynesia French Southern Territories Gabon Gambia Georgia Germany Ghana Gibraltar Greece Greenland Grenada Guadeloupe Guatemala Guernsey Guinea Guinea-Bissau Guyana Haiti Heard Island and McDonald Islands Holy See (Vatican City State) Honduras Hungary Iceland India Indonesia Iran, Islamic Republic of Iraq Ireland Isle of Man Israel Italy Jamaica Japan Jersey Jordan Kazakhstan Kenya Kiribati Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Kuwait Kyrgyzstan Lao People’s Democratic Republic Latvia Lebanon Lesotho Liberia Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Liechtenstein Lithuania Luxembourg Macao Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Madagascar Malawi Malaysia Maldives Mali Malta Martinique Mauritania Mauritius Mayotte Mexico Moldova, Republic of Monaco Mongolia Montenegro Montserrat Morocco Mozambique Myanmar Namibia Nauru Nepal Netherlands New Caledonia New Zealand Nicaragua Niger Nigeria Niue Norfolk Island Norway Oman Pakistan Palestine Panama Papua New Guinea Paraguay Peru Philippines Pitcairn Poland Portugal Qatar Reunion Romania Russian Federation Rwanda Saint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Lucia Saint Martin (French part) Saint Pierre and Miquelon Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Samoa San Marino Sao Tome and Principe Saudi Arabia Senegal Serbia Seychelles Sierra Leone Singapore Sint Maarten (Dutch part) Slovakia Slovenia Solomon Islands Somalia South Africa South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands South Sudan Spain Sri Lanka Sudan Suriname Svalbard and Jan Mayen Swaziland Sweden Switzerland Syrian Arab Republic Taiwan Tajikistan Tanzania, United Republic of Thailand Timor-Leste Togo Tokelau Tonga Trinidad and Tobago Tunisia Turkey Turkmenistan Turks and Caicos Islands Tuvalu Uganda Ukraine United Arab Emirates United Kingdom United States Uruguay Uzbekistan Vanuatu Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of Vietnam Virgin Islands, British Wallis and Futuna Western Sahara Yemen Zambia Zimbabwe Swinging from branch to branch with loud and often melodic calls, gibbons are a dramatic presence in forests they inhabit. Eighth century Chinese poet Li Bai described their haunting voices: “While on the cliffs of the Yangtze Gorges, gibbons ceaselessly cry/Ten thousand folds of mountains, my skiff has slipped them by.”Today, no gibbons live anywhere near the Yangtze River gorges Li traversed, and the apes that remain elsewhere in China have fur patterns different from those often depicted in classical Chinese paintings. But given their prominence in art, researchers assumed the animals must once have swung through the treetops of central China. Now, physical evidence of a vanished gibbon has turned up in an unexpected place: a tomb that may have been built for the grandmother of China’s first emperor, nearly 2300 years ago. The skull and jaw found in the tomb are so distinctive that scientists conclude they belonged to a member of a now-extinct gibbon genus.The skull “is really a fantastic find,” says Thomas Geissmann, a gibbon expert at the University of Zurich in Switzerland who was not involved in the research. “I don’t doubt for a second that it’s a new species, and probably a new genus. … We can assume that this vast area of central China [once] had many other species” of gibbon. With surviving gibbons also facing extinction, the new find could boost motivation to protect them by highlighting how much has already been lost, says Samuel Turvey, a conservation biologist at the Zoological Society of London who, with his colleagues, describes the ancient skull in this week’s issue of Science. Click to view the privacy policy. Required fields are indicated by an asterisk (*)center_img By Gretchen VogelJun. 21, 2018 , 2:00 PM Vanished ape found in ancient Chinese tomb, giving clues to its disappearance Gibbons are a common motif in classical Chinese artworks such as this 15th century painting. Turvey, who studies human-caused extinctions, combs historical records and museum collections for evidence about past biodiversity. In 2011, at the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology in Xi’an, China, he came across artifacts from the tomb, which was discovered in 2004 on the outskirts of Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province and once a powerful imperial city. Based on the tomb’s location and the artifacts it contained, archaeologists Ding Yan and Zhang Tianen of the Shaanxi institute, who helped lead the excavations, dated it to the Warring States period, about 2250 years ago. They concluded it may have been built for Lady Xia, the grandmother of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. Qin ruled from 256 B.C.E. until 210 B.C.E., united much of China and was buried near Xi’an with his famous terra cotta army.The collection’s primate bones caught Turvey’s attention. “Historically there are accounts of gibbons” in central China, he says, “but it is very, very far from any gibbon populations today.” The tomb also contained skeletons of leopards, lynx, black bears, cranes, and a range of domestic animals. The wild animals were all from the region, so the gibbon probably also lived nearby, says archaeologist Hu Songmei of the Shaanxi institute. Gibbons were common high-status pets, and burial chambers were often arranged so that the deceased “could continue to enjoy the life they knew when still alive,” Hu says. Because the emperor was presumably involved in his grandmother’s funeral preparations, Turvey says, “It’s not a total flight of fancy to think that he might have seen this specific gibbon.”Chinese authorities did not let the team sample the bone for DNA, which could have helped determine the animal’s kinship with existing gibbons. Instead, Turvey worked with Helen Chatterjee, an expert on gibbons at University College London, and colleagues to measure key points on the skull and teeth and compare the dimensions with those of the four living genera of gibbons. Their statistical analysis found both the skull and molars were so distinct from all of today’s gibbons that the fossil belonged to a separate genus.That fits with what we know of gibbons, Chatterjee says. Gibbon populations can easily become isolated from each other because the apes spend their lives in the treetops and can’t cross gaps in the canopy created by rivers or other barriers. That has spurred extreme genetic diversity—the four genera alive today have different numbers of chromosomes, she notes.The team named the new species Junzi imperialis. “Junzi” is a Chinese word for scholar-officials, who were often associated with gibbons because the animals were considered wiser and nobler than mischievous monkeys. The animals’ arms were thought to help them channel chi, “a bit like Jedi masters,” Chatterjee says.As for what J. imperialis looked like, classical paintings may hold some clues. They depict gibbons with a wide variety of colors and facial markings, frequently different from any of today’s gibbon species. Turvey says J. imperialis “may be the tip of the iceberg,” and a whole suite of gibbon species that were common across China in previous centuries have already gone extinct.The Imperial Chinese reverence for gibbons apparently didn’t extend to preserving their habitat. The razing of forests for agriculture in recent centuries, and perhaps the onset of a cooler, drier climate in central China, apparently spelled disaster for J. imperialis. The same dynamic is at play for today’s gibbons, says David Chivers, a primatologist who retired from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. One species, on China’s Hainan island, has only two dozen individuals left. “Remove the forest and they’re gone,” he says of the apes. “We’ve got to stop the forest being cut down. That’s the only way to save them.”With reporting by Bian Huihui in Shanghai, China.last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.Required fields are marked *