Fossils, Teeth, and Sex: New Perspectives on Human Evolution

By Charles E. Oxnard | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
The Intervening Period: An Asian Relative!

The Enigma of Gigantopithecus! Studies of Individual Measures -- Sexual Dimorphisms in Canines in Incisors -- in Premolars -- in Molars Individual Dental Measures and Sexual Dimorphism -- a Trap! Combined Measures -- Canonical Variates Analyses -- High-dimensional Displays Conclusions -- Sexual Dimorphisms in Gigantopithecus

Abstract: We review, briefly, the previous studies of Gigantopithecus. They have assessed this genus as an aberrant giant ape, an aberrant giant prehuman, an aberrant giant para-human, or none of the above. Status as a giant Asian ape is the one most often accepted.

We then go on to examine the individual dimensions of the Chinese Gigantopithecus teeth using the methods described elsewhere in this book. The enormous and well-known bimodality that they display is obvious. They possess features that imply that truly enormous sexual dimorphism exists. But there is also, in the data, clear evidence as to how dangerous it can be to try to assess sex of individual specimens. The distributions also give information about sex ratio in the fossil sample, even though we do not know which specimens are from which sex.

We examine the dimensions multivariately using the data on extant forms from Chapter 2 as the reference population. Here, the sexual dimorphism is seen to be even greater and even more complex than in any other species so far examined. Elements of the multivariate sexual dimorphism show complex relationships with both living apes and living humans.

But what may be most interesting of all is the existence of a 'creature' with a combination of sexual dimorphism and sex ratio unique among mammals.


The enigma of Gigantopithecus

All the prior results in this book make it of considerable interest to study another enigmatic fossil from China: Gigantopithecus. The first fossil evidence of Gigantopithecus is in the romantic story of fossil teeth found in a Chinese drug store in Hong Kong by G. H. R. von Koenigswald in 1935. Among a collection of odd 'dragon' teeth he purchased was a single, worn, lower third molar of enormous size. He recognized it as obviously primate ( von Koenigswald , 1952). It was later established that it (and others that he also purchased later) came from caves in southern China and were about 2 million years old.

A second species of Gigantopithecus was discovered in 1968 in the Siwalik hills in India. It was believed then to be between 5 and 9 million years old. It is clearly a different creature from the Chinese population.

The fossil materials for the Chinese Gigantopithecus (Figs. 6:1 and 6:2) eventually came to be very extensive, comprising three fairly complete mandibles and over one thousand teeth ( Woo, 1962). The materials were discovered by continuous field work, carried out since 1956 by the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Academia Sinica, Beijing under the Directorship of Professor Wu Rukang.

The three mandibles are enormous and heavily buttressed. One mandible is especially larger than the other two. The molars are large and elongated; the anterior teeth are rather small. The canines do not project above the tooth row but contrast with human canines in being worn to a flat surface.

Extending back from perhaps 1 million years or more (the Chinese form G. blackii) to as much as 7 million years or more (the Indian form G. bilaspurensis), this group has been variously assigned as an aberrant pongid (e.g. Remane, 1960; Simons and Pilbeam, 1965; Corruccini, 1975; Simons and Pilbeam, 1978), as an extinct hominid side branch (e.g. Von Koenigswald, 1952, 1958; Woo, 1962), and as a hominid ancestor (e.g. Weidenreich, 1945; Heberer, 1959; Dart, 1960).

Most of the more recent investigations have

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