Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by David Batdorf, a Sasquatch enthusiast that is interested in taking an anthropological, bird's-eye-view of the phenomenon and an advocate for species protection. Basically, he's a Bigfoot nerd.
The year is 1935 and hidden within a collection of "dragon's teeth" for sale at an unassuming apothecary shop in Hong Kong, lay a mystery waiting to be solved. The young doctor of paleontology and geology, Gustav Heinrich Ralph von Koenigswald, happened upon something that he could never have imagined: a gigantic hominoid molar, larger than any he had ever seen before. Amongst the collection of the misrepresented, mishmash of teeth that were to be used for traditional medicine... he had found Gigatopithecus blacki.
The current fossil record of this Genus of giant ape consists of four partial mandibles and thousands of teeth. While the number of individual specimen may be impressive, it is a far cry from a full set of skeletal remains, or even a partial cranium, as far as being able to reconstruct and define this Genus with certainty. This is why we must again look at the known fossil record to arrive at an answer.
When G.H.R. von Koenigswald first inspected his enigmatic find, he came to the premature conclusion that these were the molars of an ancient ape that could be a precursor to man, based on similarities in structure and human evolutionary theories of the day. Even though this proved to be false, the morphology of the tooth was certainly consistent with the family, Hominidea (Great Apes: Chimpanzee, Bonobo, Gorilla, Orangutan, Human). With further analysis, it was concluded that von Koenigswald's G. blacki lived sometime during the Mid-Pleistocene and with further fossil finds and study, was thought to have existed from about 1 million years ago to about 100,000 years ago.
With the fourth mandible found, G. blacki got a new, older cousin, G. bilaspurensis. This smaller, yet consistent mandible was found, not in China, but in neighboring India and through more finds, is thought to have existed from as long as 9 million years ago to as recently as 100,000 years ago. Gigantopithecus giganteus, would follow... at about half the estimated size of G. blacki.
Was this evidence of a relic Hominid, like Paranthropus boisei leaving the shrinking African forests, seeking refuge in the lush, Indian jungle and eventually, East Asia? P. boisei does not appear in the fossil record until the Plio-Pleistocene shift around 2 million years ago, so this is not a plausible explanation.
Could it be an early Australopithecene, like "Lucy" (A. afarensis)? The proposed earliest dates of when "Lucy's" species lived only barely predates the mid-line of the Pliocene Epoch at 4 million years ago, so again, this is also a highly unlikely candidate.
It is because of these and other reasons that Gigantopithecus is officially classified as a Pongid, without much argument. The subfamily of Pongidae consists of only two remaining species. Pongo abelii (Sumatran Orangutan - pictured above) and Pongo pygmaeus (Bornean Orangutan). There were, however, several documented Genus that are classified within the Pongidae subfamily from the Middle of the Miocene Epoch (about 13-15 million years ago) through present day.
Aside from Pongo (Orangutan) and Gigantopithecus, the Pongid fossil record also includes the Genus; Sivapithecus, Lufengpithecus, Ankarapithecus, Ouranopithecus and Griphopithecus. It is when we look at the more ancient Pongids that we see the traits of Gigantopithecus that are maybe not as apparent in the more contemporary, Orangutans.
Sivapithecus (above) was just under five feet in height, similar to modern Orangutans and lived somewhere between 12.5 and 8.5 million years ago, in subcontinental India, through China, Turkey and Pakistan. Their skull closely resembles that of the modern Orangutan, but their bodies were much more "chimp-like". This suggests that Sivapithecus, unlike the modern Orangutan, likely spent much time on the ground and were not strictly arboreal. Their jaws were robust, with massive canines and projecting incisors for cutting through grass and foliage and oversized molars that were designed for masticating their difficult diet... VERY much like the Giganto species.
There are so many similarities between Gigantopithecus and Sivapethecus, et al, that there is not only a clear a relation to geographical area and basic morphology of what is available for comparison, but also, an appropriate fossil lineage that can be established. I am comfortable stating that there is no question that the Sivapithecus gave way to the Gigantopithecus Genus and the Pongo (Orangutan) Genus.
What still perplexes me is the obvious cross between "Gorilla-like" and "Man-like" traits that are espoused to the Gigantopithecus skull recreations (above) that has seemingly brought this creature to life (see: Bill Munns with his beautifully done reconstruction from this skull in the title photo). If Gigantopithecus has officially been in the Pongidae subfamily since the 1960's, why then do we feel compelled to model it after and compare it to members of the Homininae subfamily (Chimpanzee, Bonobo, Gorilla, Human)? Specifically, Human and Gorilla seem to be the basis for the model.
To clarify, the Pongids are of a line that separated from our evolutionary path 12-16 million years ago, whereas, the gorilla did 6-8 million years ago and Chimps/Bonobos 4-6 million years ago... and ALL the Homininae Apes, supposedly diverged from the human line AFTER the reign of Sivapithecus had already come to an end.
For comparison with the Gigantopithecus skull recreation (above), here are depictions of modern nonhuman apes and G. blacki (below) and the expected shapes of their skull. "A" is a Gorilla, "B" is a Chimpanzee, "C" is a Gibbon, "D" is an Orangutan and "E" is a poorly depicted Gigantopithecus
Based upon what I just went over, "D" and "E" should be the most similar, however, this does not seem to be the case. Why? "D" is consistent with the 12 million year old, Sivapethecus that decidedly preceded the two... so, why did we build our giant this way? Its not even close...
I believe that these anthropomorphic depictions and historical reconstructions of Gigantopithecus are what proliferate their connection to the Sasquatch mystery, even though there is more-than-compelling evidence that separates this species from our first bipedal ancestors, by up to 16 million years of separate evolution.
You simply cannot have it both ways, so I feel I must throw Gigantopithecus out of the mix. This is, of course, my personal opinion and in direct conflict with some popular Sasquatch theories... however, they are in agreement with accepted science, with regard to the proliferation of Hominan traits and bipedalism and the origins of Gigantopithecus.
In my first article, I made a case for the closeness of Sasquatch to man, based on the Hominan adaptations for bipedalism, etc... and with this installment, I hope I made the case that Gigantopithecus was not a Hominan or of any reasonable closeness to our own subfamily of apes.
Now that that's settled... How did the Sasquatch get "here", "there" and seemingly, "everywhere else"???