For thousands of years, Chinese
pharmacists have used fossil
s--which they call dragon teeth
and dragon bones-- as ingredients in potions. It was in a Chinese pharmacy that the first evidence of Gigantopithecus
was found. In 1935, the German paleoanthropologist Robert von Koenigswald
came across a large primate fossilized tooth that did not belong to any known species.
Over the next few years, von Koenigswald searched for more evidence of this unknown species. He found three more of the oversized teeth in Hong Kong and Guangzhou pharmacies. It was at that point that he named the new species Gigantopithecus blacki.
In the 1950s, Chinese paleoanthropologists set out to find more evidence of Gigantopithecus' existence. This team was the first to find fossil evidence of Gigantopithecus in a geological context.
After many more discoveries of fossil teeth and jaw bones of Gigantopithecus, the species was classified as a descendant of the earlier ape ancestor Sivapithecus.
The amazing thing about Gigantopithecus was its size. It is estimated that it may have stood ten feet tall and weighed 1,200 pounds.
Scientists have put together the following profile of Gigantopithecus based on the fossilized remains, the estimated time period of Gigantopithecus' existence, and other fossil records.
Gigantopithecus had low-crowned, flat molars with very thick enamel; broad, flat premolars; dull canines; and small, closely-packed incisors. This dentition suggests that their main diet consisted of tough, fibrous foods such as coarse leaves, coarse grasses, and bamboo. In additon, further analysis of the teeth suggests that Gigantopithecus also ate fruits and seeds.
Gigantopithecus probably moved with extreme slowness. Because of their enormous size and thick skin, they did not have to move quickly to escape from predators. In addition, animals with herbivoric diets do not need to move quickly to catch their food.
Because it is believed that Gigantopithecus co-existed with species of the Homo genus, the animal's existence provides a possible explanation for sightings of Big Foot, the Abominable Snowman, and other elusive creatures.