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King Kong, Gigantopithecus & the Missing Link

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Author Topic: King Kong, Gigantopithecus & the Missing Link  (Read 2517 times)
Kristin Moore
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« Reply #15 on: May 27, 2011, 02:59:01 am »

  A further similarity between Gigantopithecus and the giant panda is a high incidence of tooth cavities. Wu Rukang, in an encyclopedic survey of the Gigantopithecus teeth in China, found cavities present in 11 percent of them - an unusually high rate for an ape, but more or less equivalent to the rate of dental cavities in the fossil remains of the giant panda. Another Chinese researcher, Zhang Yinyun, has reported a high incidence of hypoplasia - pitting in the tooth enamel that indicates periods of arrested development. These may be a result of disease or food shortage. While no certain conclusion may be drawn, we do know that bamboo is subject to periodic die-offs, which produce food shortages that threaten the survival of the giant panda.
        A more direct line of evidence that could be pursued regarding the diet of Gigantopithecus was pointed out to me by Bob Thompson, a graduate student in New World archeology, who attended one of my lectures about the extinct ape. He suggested we might look at the teeth for adhering phytoliths, microscopic pieces of silica found in many plants. The existence of phytoliths has been known since the early nineteenth century, and scientists had already successfully looked for them on stone tools, to which they apparently bond physically by the combined action of friction and moisture. But it was the first time, as far as I know, that anyone had suggested looking for them on fossil teeth.
        Four teeth were borrowed for study from the British Museum (Natural History) and the Senckenberg Natural History Museum in Frankfurt: an upper incisor, lower canine, lower premolar, and lower molar. After the teeth were cleaned to insure that what we found was definitely part of the fossils, they were examined under a scanning electron microscope at the University of Iowa by Smithsonian paleoecologist Dolores Piperno. At least thirty phytoliths were found on the teeth, most of them on the molar. We also detected tiny scratches apparently left by phytoliths, which are harder than tooth enamel. In one case, we found a phytolith sitting astride the end of the track it had plowed into the tooth - like a sled stopped in its path in the snow.
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