Scientists Now Know Where the Largest Ape to Ever Exist Sits in Primate Family Tree
by Jason Daley/Smithsonian.com
Western scientists first learned about extinct giant ape species Gigantopithecus blacki—the largest primate to ever exist—in 1935 when an anthropologist came across some of its massive molars in Chinese drug stores selling them as dragon teeth. Since then, researchers have identified thousands of teeth and a few partial jawbones from the creature. With these pieces in hand, they’ve tried to fit the bigfoot-like ape into the primate family tree. Without any usable DNA, however, the task has been difficult.
Now, using proteins in dental enamel, researchers report they’ve finally found how the Gigantopithecus fits into the great ape puzzle, according to a new study published in the journal Nature.
According to a press release, DNA has been key in helping scientists map out the messy relationships between primates and hominids that lived within the past 50,000 years. But in fossils older than that, DNA is very difficult to extract and scientists have only done it successfully in a few rare cases, including in one 400,000-year-old hominin specimen.
Gigantopithecus remains are estimated to be between 300,000 to 2 million years old, placing its reign at some point during the Pleistocene epoch.