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A Remarkable Himachal Discovery and the Tale of an Ancient Extinct Creature of India

Fossilised specimen recently found in Himachal Pradesh belonging to a new genus named Krishnapithecus, first discovered in India 38 years ago, has opened up a new window for scientists to study the lineages of extinct primates in the sub-continent.

The discovery of two fossilised lower molar teeth in Haritalyangar, Himachal Pradesh, brings fresh evidence to the case that an ape-like creature, previously believed to have become extinct almost 11 million years ago, survived in India at least until 9 million years ago. In addition, the discovery could help enable scientists to find out more about the ancestry of present-day gibbons.

The fossil specimen were found in Haritalyangar, Himachal Pradesh, India. Photo Credit: NYCEP – New York Consortium in Evolutionary Primatology

The fossil specimens belonging to the primate Krishnapithecus, an independent family within the extinct primates Pliopithecines, were discovered 100km northwest of Himachal capital Shimla. Anek R Sankhyan, head of the Paleo Research Society told the Hindustan Times, “Krishnapithecus is a member of the Pliopithecoid family. Scientists knew very little about this creature. The discovery would shed light on the evolution of Krishnapithecus, its habits and the world it lived in.”

Pliopithecines are an extinct superfamily of catarrhine primates that inhabited Asia and Europe during the Miocene and Pliocene eras, between 25 million and 10 million years ago. Prior to this remarkable discovery, the only other fossil specimens attributed to Pliopithecoidea had been recovered in parts of Europe and later in China. The first in Sansa, France in 1837, followed by a second discovered in Switzerland in 1863. Later, a small number of other pliopithecoid species were found in France, Germany, and Poland.

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Two lower molar teeth found are around 8–9 mm in length and possess fully formed crowns, but no root formation thus suggesting that they once belonged to an infant Pliopithecoid. Further studies on the fossil indicates that Krishnapithecus weighed about 15kg and was slightly larger than the modern black-furred Siamang gibbons found in parts of present day South-East Asian countries, Malaysia, Thailand and Sumatra. Based on what is believed to be known about the size of Krishnapithecus, as well as some superficial similarities, scientists believe that there is a ancestral lineage to modern day gibbons.

The modern Siamang gibbon. Photo Source: Flickr

A single molar tooth was discovered by scientists from Punjab University, Chandigarh in 1979, also from a site near Haritalyangar, providing the first piece of evidence of the existence of Krishnapithecus. “That tooth was the first evidence of something new,” said Rajan Gaur, professor at the department of anthropology at Panjab University to The Telegraph India. He added, “at the time, it was also the first fossilised ancestor of a gibbon. The new fossils would provide additional supporting evidence.” The new discovery provides fresh evidence in support of this discovery 38 years ago.

The findings have been published in Current Science journal in the April 25 issue and the Journal of Human Evolution.

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