Bones in Ancient Tomb Are of Newly Discovered Ape Genus
Bones in Ancient Tomb Are of Newly Discovered Ape Genus

Bones in Ancient Tomb Are of Newly Discovered Ape Genus

The now-extinct gibbon was buried with the grandmother of China’s first emperor and her many pets.

kerry grens
Kerry Grens

Kerry served as The Scientist’s news director until 2021. Before joining The Scientist in 2013, she was a stringer for Reuters Health, the senior health and science reporter at...

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Jun 21, 2018

ABOVE: Skull of Junzi imperialis, a newly described extinct gibbon from China

A skull extracted from a 2,200-year-old tomb in China represents a newly identified—and already extinct—gibbon, Junzi imperialis, paleontologists report today (June 21) in Science. Its human companion in the crypt is thought to be Lady Xia, the grandmother of China’s first emperor Qin Shihuang.

“I don’t doubt for a second that it’s a new species, and probably a new genus,” Thomas Geissmann, a gibbon expert at the University of Zurich who was not involved in the study, tells Science. “We can assume that this vast area of central China [once] had many other species.”

Lady Xia’s tomb, discovered in 2004, held a menagerie of remains—leopard, lynx, black bear, crane, and other animals that were buried with her. Several years ago, Samuel Turvey of the Zoological Society of London was visiting Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology...

Junzi’s distinctive molars and other cranial features set it apart from other known gibbons. “It’s clearly a weird specimen,” John Fleagle, a primate anatomist at Stony Brook University who did not participate in the study, tells National Geographic.

Not only did the researchers find that Junzi is quite different from other gibbons, but it’s also no longer around. “[T]here is no evidence that gibbons have lived in the region where this specimen was found for many hundreds, if not thousands, of years,” coauthor Helen Chatterjee of University College London tells The Atlantic.

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