How much can be known about a species that existed 300,000 years ago if we find its fossilized teeth and jaw bones? If we are to go by the facts about Gigantopithecus blacki, definitely a lot. We shed light on a species that must have been the inspiration behind all those myths about the Bigfoot.
Previously thought to be a relative of humans, Gigantopithecus blacki is now placed in the Ponginae subfamily of primates, alongside its closest relative, the orangutan (genus Pongo).
In 1935, a German paleontologist, Gustav Heinrich Ralph von Koenigswald was going through dragon bones in a Chinese apothecary shop, when he bumped into a tooth, which was unusually large and heavy. Koenigswald was told it was a dragon tooth, possibly because of its size, but he being a seasoned paleontologist, knew that the molar belonged to a primate. Koenigswald named the theorized species Gigantopithecus. Over the course of time, more of such fossilized teeth and jaws were recovered from various parts of Asia.
Based on the available evidence, paleontologists deduced that there were three species belonging to genus Gigantopithecus, namely Gigantopithecus blacki, Gigantopithecus bilaspurensis, and Gigantopithecus giganteus. While the fossilized remains of G. blacki were recovered from the fossil-rich caves of China and Vietnam, that of the other two species were recovered from India and China. Interestingly, G. blacki was the largest of the three Gigantopithecus species.
Gigantopithecus Blacki Facts
Range: Based on the available fossil evidence, paleontologists believe that Gigantopithecus blacki existed in South China and Vietnam, since the middle Miocene, i.e., roughly about 9 million years ago. The remains of this species have been recovered from the Chinese provinces of Hubei, Guangxi, and Sichuan, as well as the Lang Son Province of Vietnam.
Gigantic Size: Researchers believe that G. blacki was roughly about 3 m (9.8 ft) tall, weighed approximately 1,190 lb, and had an arm span of around 3.6 m (12 ft). In contrast, the largest extant primate, the eastern gorilla (Gorilla beringei) is 1.7 m (5.6 ft), weighs approximately 309 – 453 lb, and has an arm span of about 7 – 9 ft. That the genus name of the species, Gigantopithecus means gigantic ape shouldn’t really come as a surprise.
Bipedal or Quadrupedal? There is a debate as to whether the species was biped or quadruped, with most researchers suggesting that it had to be a quadruped―walking on all fours like a gorilla―to support the weight of its body. Grover Krantz, a professor of physical anthropology at the Washington State University, was one of the few researchers who suggested that G. blacki was bipedal. He argued that the shape of the rear portion of G. blacki‘s jaw bones suggested that its jaw was held in the same position as a biped, and not carried forward as in the case of quadrupeds.
A bamboo-eater: The robust lower jaws and low crowned molars with thick enamel, which suggest that the species was primarily used to a diet of tough fibrous plants, and the occurrence of bamboo forests in the region from where these dental remains have been recovered, led paleontologists to believe that the species was primarily a bamboo-eater, much like pandas which have a more or less similar geographical range.
Besides these, some researchers also noticed some deformities in their teeth, most probably caused as result of malnutrition during the period of bamboo die offs, wherein certain species of bamboos die every 20 to 40 years. The cyclic occurrence also threatens pandas, and in 2007, nearly led to their extinction. Additionally, the cavities in their teeth suggested that their diet also comprised sugary fruits and seeds.
G. blacki and Homo erectus: That the species became extinct about 300,000 years ago, implies that it co-existed with the predecessor of Homo sapien, Homo erectus. Paleontologists have recovered fossil remains of both species from Vietnam, which reveal that G. blacki probably fell prey to large-scale predation by Homo erectus.
What About the Bigfoot-Giganto Theory?
Going by the general description put forth by researchers, it isn’t surprising that many Americans tend to relate G. blacki with the Bigfoot or Sasquatch, a humanoid creature whose sightings have been reported from the United States and Canada for centuries. In Asia, the Bigfoot is replaced by Yeti or the Abominable Snowman. The Bigfoot-Giganto Theory is a hypothesis which suggests that Bigfoots are the extant relatives of G. blacki. The proponents of this theory argue that a species that had such a large brain had to be intelligent enough to adapt to a new environment instead of just becoming extinct as a result of predation by Homo erectus. Their argument: G. blacki must have used the Bering land bridge to cross into the New World and evolved into what we know as the Bigfoot.
Critics seem to be least impressed by the argument put forth by Bigfoot-Giganto theorists. They argue that there is a considerably long gap between the extinction of G. blacki and use of the Bering land bridge by plants and animals to cross into the New World. They have one simple question, if the Bigfoot does exist, how come we have never come across its bones in North America? It makes sense, because there are at least fossil remains which suggest that G. blacki existed at one point of time. There is no such evidence to make a strong case for the Bigfoot.
Could it be that Gigantopithecus blacki morphed into the Bigfoot, not in reality, but in the tales of those who traveled from the Old World into the New World. Now, that is very well possible.