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New extinct gibbon skeleton found in grave burial pit in Shaanxi

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China News Service Xi'an, June 25 (Reporter Tian Jin) The Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology officially announced on the 25th that archeologists found the extinct gibbon skeleton of the new genus in the grave pit of the Shenheyu Tomb in Xi'an, Shaanxi.

Several species of gibbon once distributed in China. Photo by Shaanxi Institute of Archeology

The Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology and the British Zoological Society and other institutions have been studying the gibbon skeletons unearthed in the funerary pit of Shenheyu Tomb (the tomb owner is the Empress Qin Shihuang's grandmother Xia) since the 2011. Morphological observation, 3D modeling, and measurement of 16 landmarks confirmed that the gibbon is different from the living gibbon and the extinct quaternary gibbon.

Compared with the existing gibbon, the newly discovered species has a relatively flat and smaller face, and the canine teeth are particularly long according to the size of the species. The measured data is also not aggregated with the four known gibbon genus. The 3D digital scanning and comparison of its shape with hundreds of gibbon species in Asia and German and British collections show that this species is very prominent and compares with other species. The genera are obviously different, so the analysis should belong to a new genera.

Unearthed gibbon skull and mandible. Photo by Shaanxi Institute of Archeology

According to reports, the gibbon was found for the first time in a tomb. Gibbons are used to inhabiting forests, and their bones often break down quickly, so it is extremely rare to find such ancient gibbon remains. In China, few and sporadic teeth and broken bones have been found in the fossils and bones of the gibbon, which makes it difficult to identify the genus. In addition to the residual skull, the gibbon found this time also has some incomplete upper limb bones, which provides better first-hand information for the identification of genera.

The gibbon was unearthed in a funeral pit in the southeast of the large tomb. The pit is a long bar and is a veritable pit for rare birds and animals. The northern section was buried with "rare birds" and the southern section was buried with "foreign beasts." From the south to the north, the "beast" is a tadpole, a leopard, two black bears, a sheep, and a gibbon remnant, mandible, and forelimb bones remaining on the east side. This shows that the royal court at that time may have various rare birds and animals. The presence of gibbon in the tomb fully shows that humans have influenced the extinction of this species.

Data show that "rare birds and strange animals" were found in the funeral pits of Hanyang Mausoleum and the Emperor Qin Shihuang's Mausoleum in Shaanxi, but no gibbon was found.

This discovery confirms that the gibbon's distribution area is shrinking rapidly and that the population is extinct faster than previously expected; it also illustrates the diversity of gibbon species differentiation, showing its fragile environment. Documents indicate that the gibbon began to decrease before the 18th century, such as extinction in the Three Gorges and other places, but mainly began in the 18th century. During this period, the population of Fengxiang in Shaanxi has disappeared. In the 19th century, in Zhouzhi, Huxian, Zhenping and Remains. From the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century, the remaining sites distributed north of the Yangtze River disappeared. The "Gibbon Examination" mentioned that until the 10th century AD, there were people capturing gibbons around Chang'an. Judging from the distribution history and documentary records of the gibbon in Shaanxi, before 2200, there were a certain number of gibbon in the forests on the northern slope of the Qinling Mountains in Shaanxi. At that time, the climate was hotter and hotter, and the forest was dense, suitable for the survival of gibbon.

Experts said that the shortcoming of the study on the funeral pit gibbon is the lack of ancient DNA research. The researchers will cooperate with relevant research institutions and experts to solve the pedigree of the new species in taxonomic evolution and close relationships with other gibbon. (Finish)

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