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Mystery Behind ‘King Kong’ Extinction Solved

Artist’s impression of a group of Gigantopithecus blacki
Artist’s impression of a group of Gigantopithecus blacki. King Kong extinction mystery solved. Credit: Garcia / Joannes-Boyau / Southern Cross University

A group of scientists from China, Australia, and the United States has solved the mystery of when and how the largest ape to ever exist, Gigantopithecus blacki, disappeared from Earth.

Gigantopithecus blacki, also known as G. blacki, was a massive primate standing three meters tall and weighing up to three hundred kilograms. It used to live in the Karst plains of southern China.

The study, published in the journal Nature on Thursday, reveals that G. blacki became extinct somewhere between 295,000 and 215,000 years ago, predating the arrival of modern humans in that area.

Contrary to some popular stories, the research disproves the idea that this enormous ape, which shares a family connection with orangutans, was ever seen by humans in the forests, as reported by CGTN News.

2,000 fossilized remains of G. blacki unearthed since the 1950s

In 1935, paleoanthropologist Ralph von Koenigswald identified G. blacki based on a single molar tooth measuring around two centimeters. He named it “blacki” in honor of Canadian anatomist Davidson Black.

Since the 1950s, researchers have unearthed about two thousand fossilized teeth and four jawbones of the giant ape in southern China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. However, until now, no remains from the neck down or the jaw up have been discovered.

Zhang Yingqi, co-lead author of the study and a researcher at the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology (IVPP) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, describes the G. blacki story as a puzzle in paleoanthropology. The reason for its extinction has become a significant quest in this field.

In 2015, Zhang and his team embarked on an extensive investigation, searching hills throughout Guangxi. They gathered evidence from twenty-two cave sites, with half showing G. blacki remains and another eleven from a similar time period not exhibiting any G. blacki evidence.

G. blacki went extinct between 295,000 and 215,000 years ago

Subsequently, the team employed six different dating techniques for the cave sediments and fossils. The analysis of 157 dating results disclosed that the G. blacki species was on the verge of extinction between 295,000 and 215,000 years ago.

In the study, a key dating method focused on analyzing light-sensitive signals present in the sediments that surrounded the buried fossils.

The ages obtained from this technique aligned with direct dating results on the fossils. By combining these outcomes with results from other methods, the researchers constructed a thorough and trustworthy timeline for the extinction of G. blacki.

Kira Westaway, co-lead author of the paper affiliated with Macquarie University in Australia, highlighted the significance of pinpointing the exact time a species disappears from the fossil record. This information provides a targeted timeframe for reconstructing the environment and evaluating the behavior of the species, according to Westaway.

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