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A extinct holocene gibbon has been discovered in an ancient Chinese royal tomb. These remains constitute the first documented evidence of ape extinction after the last ice age.
The find, carried out by an international team led by the Institute of Zoology, of the Zoological Society of London, further concludes that it may have been the first primate to disappear as a direct result of human activity.
“Although all current apes are in danger of extinction, there was no evidence that humans were behind the extinctions of monkeys or other primates in postglacial continental ecosystems, despite intense anthropogenic pressures associated with biodiversity loss over millennia. in many regions ”, explain the researchers in the study published in Science.
The gibbon, named Junzi imperialis, has been described from a 2,200 to 2,300-year-old partial skull and mandible discovered among a cluster of animal remains in the ancient capital of Chang’an, in modern-day Chinese Shaanxi. At that time, gibbons were perceived as "noble" and kept as high-level pets.
The grave where the fossils were may have been built to Lady Xia, the grandmother of the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. Qin united much of China and was buried near Xi’an with his famous terracotta army.
An unknown Asian ape population
The remains of the mysterious gibbon, consisting mainly of a partial facial skeleton, were compared to known living and extinct Hylobates. Junzi has been able to differentiate himself from these primates by using craniodental morphometric data.
Likewise, constitutes a new genus and species, as revealed by the detailed study of cranial and dental measurements.
As a result, it can be concluded that, until recently, East Asia was home to a previously unknown, albeit historically extinct, ape population, as well as suggesting that man-made loss of primate diversity may have been underestimated.
There are historical accounts describing gibbon catches in the vicinity of Chang’an in the 10th century and its presence in Shaanxi province until the 18th century. These recent accounts may refer to other undescribed and extinct species.
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