https://news.nationalgeographic. ... =&sf192326622=1

Ancient Royal Tomb Yields Strange New Ape Species

Lady Xia's tomb would have certainly been something to behold. Excavated in 2004, the tomb belonged to the grandmother of China's first emperor, Qin Shihuang. Inside was an array of riches—jade, gold, silver, engraved pottery, and two carriages complete with 12 horses, according to reports from Chinese state media.

Twelve pits in the tomb also yielded bones from an exotic menagerie, including an Asiatic black bear, a leopard, a lynx, a crane—and an unusual-looking gibbon. The skull of this small ape is so strange that researchers now believe the high-status pet belongs to a newly described, but extinct, genus and species.

The researchers gave the creature the moniker Junzi imperialis, which is a nod to the skull's royal roots as well as the gibbon's common role of “scholarly gentleman” (the English translation of Junzi) in ancient Chinese mythology.

Perhaps most importantly, the gibbon discovery provides strong evidence of early human exploitation of the creatures, helping scientists understand the extent of our influence on past primate extinctions, researchers argue in a new study published today in the journal Science.

“There's very little known about primate extinctions—almost nothing,” says study coauthor James Hansford, a postdoctoral research associate with the Zoological Society of London. With gibbon remains in Asia primarily limited to teeth and small bone fragments, the fossil record for these beasts is far from complete.

“Just establishing the fact that it existed is a hugely important thing,” says Hansford.

Thanks to the skull's archaeological importance, the researchers couldn't study the ape's DNA, which calls for destruction of part of the precious bones. Instead, they turned to what's known as morphometric analysis, or studying the specific shape and angles of the skull and teeth.

To the untrained eye, the ancient gibbon skull may bear a striking resemblance to the heads of the tree-swinging apes we know today. “They tend to look fairly similar ... especially once you pile on all the hair,” says Susan Cheyne, vice chair of the IUCN Primate Specialist Group Section on Small Apes, who wasn't involved in the work.

So the study team assembled a database of skull and teeth dimensions for the four living genera of gibbons, using lasers to measure a total of 789 teeth from 279 individuals, as well as 477 skulls. This database allowed them to compare the imperial ape to known species. “What we found from that is it's extraordinarily different,” says Hansford.

The forehead is steeper and the brow is more understated, explains study coauthor Alejandra Oritz, a postdoctoral researcher at Arizona State University. And then there are the teeth. Put simply, it has very big teeth, says Hansford.

“The lower molars are just out of sight,” says John Fleagle, a primate anatomist at Stony Brook University, who wasn't involved in the work. Fleagle agrees with the authors' distinction of the creature as a new genus and species, and he praises the rigorousness of their comparison, which included hundreds of specimens.

“It looked like everything they could get their calipers on,” he says.

He points out that a life in captivity might explain some of the weird bone shapes, since “animals that were raised by humans and given funny things to eat sometimes have funny skeletons.” But, he adds, such effects likely couldn't produce such big chompers.

“It's clearly a weird specimen,” he says.

Today, all Chinese gibbons are critically endangered, the highest category of threat on the IUCN red list, notes Cheyne. At risk due to deforestation and poaching, the creatures now traipse across only a fraction of the land they once called home.

Some researchers believe this kind of primate devastation is a recent affair. “There was the idea that apes in the past have been somewhat resilient to anthropogenic pressures and incidental habitat loss,” Oritz says in an email. But the imperial gibbon discovery suggests this isn't the case.

Most major extinctions likely occurred in part due to massive swings in climate. Roughly 11,000 years ago, the last ice age loosened its frosty grip. Glaciers receded, temperatures warmed, and many animals began heading toward extinction—giant ground sloths, wooly mammoths, saber-toothed cats, and more.

But the gibbons persisted. The fossil find suggests they swung through the trees of Shaanxi in central China around 2,000 years ago, during a period of stable climate. They seemed to thrive in these forests until just a few hundred years ago, when they vanished from the region, according to historical records.

So where did they go? Most signs point to human meddling.

During this time, the need for farmland grew along with the population, and forests suffered. Gibbons prefer life high up off the ground and are crippled by the loss of an aboral home. Add in a dash of trapping and trading as high-status pets—as evidenced by the entombed gibbon—and the creatures didn't stand a chance.

Things aren't much different for gibbons in the internet age, which has only intensified some of the problems, Cheyne explains. “Gibbons are being openly advertised for sale on Twitter and Instagram and Facebook,” she says. (Hunting for bush meat is also driving some primate species to the brink of extinction.)

Many of these creatures are now teetering on the edge. Hansford and his colleagues are working to protect one such species, the Hainan gibbon (Nomascus hainanus), of which only some 26 individuals remain.

“What we can start to see is that [modern gibbon species are] a relic of what was perhaps a much wider radiation of gibbons and primates across Asia,” says Hansford. “We've lost more and more and more of them. We can't even quantify what we lost because we don't have the records of it.”

The discovery of the imperial gibbon is evidence of this long history of demise, and it highlights the importance of current protections. “The key thing is we can learn from our past,” says Cheyne, “and try to change our future.”






中国网新闻6月25日讯 据《纽约时报》报道,英国研究人员确认,在中国一处古墓中发现的长臂猿是一种前所未见且现已灭绝的属种。

2009年,环保主义者、长臂猿专家塞缪尔·特维(Samuel Turvey)在中国一座博物馆内参观时,一个不完整的头骨吸引了他的注意。头骨是在位于中国陕西的一座秦国古墓中发现的,同时被埋葬的还有其他动物。这座墓估计有2200至2300年的历史,墓主人很可能是秦始皇的祖母夏太后。

在特维的伦敦动物学会动物研究所实验室读博士后的詹姆斯·汉斯福德(James Hansford)说,这个头部的形状让特维吃了一惊,它看起来不像他所知的任何现代动物。

本月21日,在《科学》(Science)杂志上发表的一篇新论文证实,他的直觉没错。特维的研究团队明确了该生物是一种新的属和种——帝王君子(Junzi imperialis)长臂猿。在古代中国,长臂猿被视为是士大夫的象征,君子则有“有修养的学者”之意。





未参与研究但与团队成员有协作的苏珊·切尼(Susan Cheyne)表示,此前从未在坟墓内发现过长臂猿。她表示,不论在哪里找到如此古老的长臂猿遗骸都是极其罕见的,因为它们的栖息地在森林,这往往会让它们的骨骼迅速降解。







杜伦大学人类学教授、大英灵长类动物协会主席乔·塞切尔(Jo Setchell)并未参与研究工作,她表示该发现提供了新的视角。