Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Will the real “H. floresiensis” please stand-up?

Well, I’m going to go off the deep end this time with what some may consider an outrageous proposal. Visions of giant rats dancing in my head have led me back to meditations on the enigmatic “hobbit.” Could the beloved “hobbit” aka “Homo floresiensis” actually be a descendant of Lufengpithecus? The edifice I will build is most likely a house of cards, but venues such as this allow for flights of fancy, if not fantasy.

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Late Miocene Hominoids: Back to the Future

The discovery of a 7 million year old hominoid tooth in Bulgaria may not sound like much but it could be a “big deal.” For one, it demonstrates that late Miocene (Turolian) apes persisted in Europe much later than previously thought. The Turkish ape, Ouranopithecus turkae, with a biochronological age of 8.7–7.4 mya and fossil hominoids from Yunnan attributed to Lufengpithecus, dated between 6-11 mya, also last well into the Turolian. It is also during the Turolian that purported basal hominans (i.e. Sahelanthropus) begin to appear in the African fossil record.

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Monday, July 26, 2010


“The giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared.”

Well Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had it right. Even he may have been daunted by a recent discovery on the neighboring island of Timor. Imagine a fully grown raccoon weighing between 10-15 lbs. Now morph it into a rat of similar weight and size. What you have envisioned is a new species of rat that lived on the Indonesian island until it went extinct about 2000 years ago. As humans have lived on Timor since at least 40,000 ya there's no question that these giant rats graced the palate of many a Timoran. The largest rats alive today are found in the Philippines and weigh a mere 5 lbs at most. Read more about it at Science Daily.

The Timor rat is to the left, the common black rat to the right.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


A Late Miocene (Turolian) Hominoid from Bulgaria

The Paleontological Museum in Assenovgrad, Bulgaria, a branch of the NMNH – Sofia recently announced the discovery of a Late Miocene (Turolian) hominoid in South Bulgaria (Chirpan District). The discovery, the first of its kind in Bulgaria, was the result of intensive paleontological field work that has led to the identification of a number of Late Miocene fossil localities. The recovery of over 30,000 fossils lays a firm foundation for the study of Miocene faunas and paleoenvironments in Bulgaria. Given Bulgaria’s proximity to Late Miocene hominoid discoveries in Greece and Turkey the search for fossil apes was given top priority. The new find consists of a single upper fourth premolar resembling Ouranopithecus. A preliminary report is given by the Bulgarian Science Academy.

Of most significance is the specimen's age, estimated to be ~ 7 mya. This is later than any previously discovered European hominoid and coeval with Lufengpithecus from Yunnan in China. This suggests that Eurasian hominoids survived later and were more widespread than once thought. How this relates to the emergence of hominans is at present unknown.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Some Interesting Comparisons

Here are side-by-side comparisons of the Butterfly Ridge Child (Lufengpithecus hudienensis)(YV0999)(7-8 mya) and the Dikika Child (Australopithecus afarensis)(3.3 mya)(above) and YV0999, the Taung Child (A. africanus)(~2.5 mya) and The Hadar juvenile (A. afarensis)(3.2 mya)(below). I've taken some liberties with the Dikika and Taung specimens by photographically removing the bone enmeshed in matrix and the endocast, respectively, to highlight the portions of the face that are comparable to the Yuanmou specimen. Interestingly all are about the same dental age. There are clearly some similarities here.

Hudieliangzi                               Dikika

      Hudieliangzi                 A. africanus Taung

A. afarensis  333-105


The Juvenile Hominoid from Butterfly Ridge

Over the last month I've been reviewing the study of Lufengpithecus lufengensis recently published by Xu and Lu (2008). It is the 3rd publication in the ponderous sounding series of monographs entitled "State Key Project of the 9th Five Year Plan -- Origin of Early Humans and Environmental Background." The 2nd monograph in the series deals with a number of sites in the Yuanmou Basin of Yunnan that have produced prolific fossil hominoids. Long thought to be younger than Lufeng, these sites are now known to be somewhat older, between 7-8 mya. Lufeng has been dated perhaps a million years younger. The most important hominoid fossil excavated from the Yuanmou basin is a little heralded juvenile skull which is finally described in detail in the recent monograph (Qi and Dong 2004).

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Thursday, July 22, 2010


Unraveling the Genetics of High Altitude Adaptations in Tibetans

In an unusual confluence of events three studies on the genetics of high-altitude adaptations among Tibetans have recently been published. They all target alleles associated with genes in the hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) oxygen signaling pathway that have been subject to strong and recent positive selection in Tibetan highlanders. One gene in particular EPAS1 maintains low hemoglobin levels in the face of low oxygen concentrations at high altitude. During acclimatization to high altitudes individuals from lower altitudes increase their production of red blood cells and hemoglobin to compensate for the lower atmospheric pressure which inhibits the absorption of oxygen into the blood stream. This however has a number of deleterious effects associated with high altitude sickness.

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Animal Connection: New Hypothesis for Human Evolution and Human Nature

- What Does China Tell Us?

Pat Shipman has a new book in press (see above title) and an academic article coming out in Current Anthropology which elaborates on the role animal species have played in the evolutionary transformation of man-apes into ape-men and eventually fully human beings, replete with the ability to communicate using symbolic representations (aka art). Central to her hypothesis is the idea that the “interdependency of ancestral humans with other animal species -- "the animal connection" -- played a crucial and beneficial role in human evolution over the last 2.6 million years” (see write-up in Science Daily). Basically Shipman argues that as humans assumed the role of a top predator they began to study the behavior of their competitors (and I assume their prey) in order to learn how to hunt. They thus began to identify and empathize with other species. Symbolic representations, domestication and language were the ultimate end results.

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Monday, July 19, 2010


More on the Proximal Femur of Lufengpithecus.

Recent articles by Holliday et al. (2010) and Harmom (2009) comparing the morphology of the proximal femur in extant African hominids (Gorilla, Pan and Homo) and early hominans are aimed at distinguishing them from one another, allowing for at least “genus level” identification of fossil specimens. Both studies use multivariate statistical analysis to identify character states that discriminate various early hominans, such as Australopithecus, Paranthropus and early Homo, from the extant African apes. This is a very important consideration as more and more proximal femora crop up in the fossil record.

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Saturday, July 17, 2010


The Baoshan Mandible

For all you Lufengpithecus freaks out there in cyberspace I happened upon this photo of the Baoshan Lufengpithecus mandible while surfing the Chinese web. It’s the only photo of this poorly documented specimen that I’ve come across.

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Friday, July 16, 2010


Could There Have Been Non-Hominan “Hominids”?

To begin with let me clarify that by “hominid” I mean a hominoid primate that has the appearance of being a possible human ancestor and by hominan I mean a member of the subtribe Hominina that includes direct human ancestors and collateral relatives descended from the Last Common Ancestor (LCA) we share with the chimpanzee.
The last few essays that I’ve posted have dealt with Lufengpithecus and other indeterminate hominoid remains from China. These include a number of dentognathic specimens that have been compared to fossil orangutans, a non-orang large bodied ape (possibly allied to Lufengpithecus), or early species of Homo cum Meganthropus.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010


An Old Essay That Is Still Relevant

Way back in 1995 I posted the following article on the web. It was a precursor to the paper I co-authored with Tracey Crummett and Milford Wolpoff on "Longgupo: Early Homo colonizer or late Pliocene Lufengpithecus survivor in south China?" It goes on to comment on other controversial hominoid remains from South China and Java. Given the recent retraction by Russ Ciochon that the Longgupo mandibular specimen is an early Chinese hominid and his conversion to accepting it as an East Asian "mystery ape" I thought it was appropriate to re-post my initial observations on the subject. Over the last 15 years more material of the sort mentioned in the following essay have been brought to light. In a future post I will review these new finds and put them in their proper context. The first part of the following re-post includes a section on Longgupo which is substantially the same as the published article.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010


An Early Entry of Modern Humans into East Asia?

Until recently a lack of diagnostic human fossils in China between 30-120,000 ya created a significant lacuna in the record of human evolution in East Asia. The time span in question is crucial as it is during this period that genetic evidence suggests modern humans dispersed out of Africa to eventually populate the rest of the world. The question thus arises - how do the earlier erectine and archaic pre-modern human fossils from China relate to modern human populations there and elsewhere in East Asia?

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Saturday, July 10, 2010


One, Two, Three, Many Bipeds…Bipedalism is Nothing Special

Mark my words, a paradigm shift is in the making. Let me be the first to announce it. One hundred years from now (if we survive as a species and continue to advance in our scientific knowledge of the past) paleoanthropologists will take it as a given that hominids (in the traditional sense of the term) were one of a multitude of bipedal ape lineages that emerged in the late Miocene and early Pliocene, 5-8 mya. Parallelisms are rampant in primate evolution. Many now think that the defining upper body features of extant hominoids (including gibbons, orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees and humans) for suspensory below branch locomotion evolved in parallel. More recently, the knuckle walking terrestrial locomotor pattern of chimpanzees and gorillas has been put forth as an example of parallel evolution. Why should bipedalism be any different? If it has been as successful an adaptation as the fossil record suggests (almost all hominoid fossils found in Africa over the last 6-7 million years have been or are thought to have been bipeds) why shouldn’t bipedalism have evolved independently in several different late Miocene ape lineages? My recent posts regarding Lufengpithecus support this hypothesis. Lufengpithecus, a late Miocene ape from Yunnan in southern China, seems to possess the very same basicranial and femoral adaptations for bipedalism that have been used to assign the likes of Sahelanthropus, Orrorin and Ardipithecus to the Hominidae (s.s.). This raises an interesting conundrum. Either Lufengpithecus is an early Asian hominid (s.s.) or bipedalism was an important constituent part of the locomotor repertoire of more than one late Miocene ape lineage. Given the fact that the non-hominid Oreopithecus also had features consistent with bipedalism it is becoming ever more apparent that there may have been multiple bipedal lineages during the late Miocene and early Pliocene. Perhaps Sahelanthropus, Orrorin and Ardipithecus represent other pre-hominid bipedal lineages as well. Or, as I’ve previously suggested, perhaps adaptations for bipedalism occurred in the LCA of the Great Ape clade (including humans), the African ape clade (including humans), or the chimpanzee/human clade. No matter which of these musings proves true (if any) the possibility that there were one, two, three or many bipedal hominoid lineages during the late Miocene and early Pliocene should be taken seriously.

Friday, July 09, 2010


A Chinese Ape in Our Ancestry? Part 4

The overall phenetic similarity between the post-canine dentition of Lufengpithecus lufengensis and Ardipithecus ramidus is striking. This is particularly true given the fact that the two are separated by approximately two million years in time and thousands of miles in space. This is not the place to give a detailed morphometric analysis. It will suffice to illustrate the similarities with a few side to side visual comparisons. As is said a picture is worth a thousand words.

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Thursday, July 08, 2010


A Chinese Ape in Our Ancestry? Part 3

Lufengpithecus has generally been considered a primitive member of the Orangutan clade. The latest dating of the Lufeng site places it between 6.9~6.2 mya, or in the latest stage of the Late Miocene, well within the time span of the Last Common Ancestor (LCA) we share with the chimpanzee. But Lufeng is in South China, a region that had orangutans as recently as a few thousand years ago, and not East Africa, so its been assumed that Lufengpithecus is simply an ancestral orang of sorts. But how orang-like was it? Another hominoid from the Late Miocene of Lufeng, Laccopithecus is gibbon-like in many aspects of its craniofacial anatomy but has been identified as a pliopithecid, based on its dentition, by a number of specialists in hylobatid phylogeny. Pliopithecids are primarily European in distribution, so it would not be anomalous if Lufengpithecus turned out to be an intrusive element in the southeast Asian biozone in which its been found.

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A Chinese Ape in Our Ancestry? Part 2

In an earlier post I reported on the basicranium of Lufengpithecus lufengensis as described in a 2008 monograph. The basicranium illustrated comes from the crushed male cranium of specimen PA 644. There are also complete but crushed basicrania of a juvenile specimen PA 844 (left) and a female specimen PA 677 (right). These can be seen in the following plates, but they haven’t been configured in a fashion to make their traits readily discernible and they haven’t been described in detail, so its very difficult to confirm the placement of the foramen magnum as in PA 644. Nonetheless, there is more than enough morphology present to eventually allow for a computer assisted reconstruction of both specimens.

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Wednesday, July 07, 2010


Videos on Chinese Paleoanthropology

CCTV – the acronym for Central China TV - has produced a number of documentaries dealing with paleoanthropological discoveries in China. Their international service has produced English language programs but most are in Chinese only. Links to Chinese paleoanthropological videos are listed after the break.

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Monday, July 05, 2010


A Chinese Ape in Our Ancestry?

As paleoanthropologists home in on the Last Common Ancestor (LCA) of apes and humans, it seems that many have been barking up the wrong tree. Rather than being rather chimp-like, it's turning out that the LCA was perhaps more hominid-like (in the old sense of the word) than previously thought. This has been highlighted by the recently published account of the Ardipithecus ramidus partial skeleton, which at 4.4 mya is considered by many paleoanthropologists to be one of our earliest direct ancestors.

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