Last updated July 5, 2018 at 9:47 am
Lost gibbon is extinct, probably thanks to humans.
Scientists have discovered an extinct gibbon in a royal ancient Chinese tomb. The animal was of a previously unknown species.
The find is the first documented evidence of ape extinction following the last ice age and may also be the first to vanish as a direct result of human activity.
The unlikely surprise was found in the tomb believed to belong to Lady Xia, the grandmother of China’s first emperor.
The tomb is 2,200-2,300 years old and was uncovered in the ancient capital city of Chang’an, in modern Shaanxi, China.
The fossil primarily consists of a partial facial skeleton.
It was found to be distinct from known living and extinct hylobatids – the gibbon family classification.
Scientists have named the gibbon, Junzi imperialis.
Primates have long featured within ancient Chinese culture. At the time that the tomb was made, gibbons were seen as noble, and kept as high-status pets.
Primates have been recognised for their quick wit and intelligence, notably being one of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals, as well as the famous Chinese mythology stories of the Monkey God.
Fossils of the extinct species are rare. The oldest fossil hylobatid is Yuanmoupithecus from the late Miocene of China, dating to 7 to 9 million years ago.
Historical records show that gibbons have been caught near Chang’an into the 10th century, and inhabiting Shaanxi Province until the 18th century.
The full evolutionary history of hylobatids, from how they delineated and geographic distribution, is unknown. These recent findings may represent other undescribed, now extinct, species of gibbons.
A review paper last year published in Science Advances claimed that “60% of primate species are now threatened with extinction and 75% have declining population.”
The ancient Egyptians have previously been known to bury animals in tombs for the deceased.
The research is published in Science.