The remains of an extinct monkey appeared in a tomb built about 2,300 years ago for the grandmother of the first emperor of China.
As with this 15th century painting, Asian monkeys were a common motif in classical Chinese artwork. A: Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Asian monkeys swinging from branch to branch with loud and melodic sounds are the impressive beings of the forests they live in. The 8th-century poet, Chinese Li Bai, described the memorable sounds of these monkeys as follows: “While standing on the cliffs of the Yangtze Valley, Asian monkeys cry non-stop / Ten thousand curved mountains flow from my boat.”
Today, no Asian monkeys live in the valleys of the Yangtze River, where Li passes. Fur patterns of monkeys that exist elsewhere in China are different from those depicted in classical Chinese paintings. However, given their reputation in art, researchers assumed that these animals were once swinging in treetops in Central China. Now, a physical proof of this extinct monkey has appeared in an unexpected place: in a tomb built about 2,300 years ago for the grandmother of China’s first emperor. The skull and jaw found here is so obvious that scientists have concluded that it belongs to a member of the genus of Asian apes that are now extinct.
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Asian monkey specialist Thomas Geissman, who is not involved in the research, says, “It’s a really great discovery for the skull.” “I had no doubt that this was a new breed and a new breed. We can assume that this vast region of Central China once hosted many other species of monkeys. ”
Samuel Turvey, a conservation biologist at the London Zoological Society, says that this new finding can increase motivation for the protection of apes that are alive but now in danger of extinction, as it reveals how much losses we have experienced so far.
Investigating human extinctions, Turvey scanned historical records and museum collections to find evidence of past biodiversity. In 2011, at the Shaanxi State Archaeological Institute in Xi’an, China, he encountered artifacts from the tomb discovered in 2004 on the outskirts of Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province and once a powerful imperial city.
In the ancient Chinese tomb, the skull of Junzi imperialis, a previously unknown genus and extinct network species, was discovered. A: London Camuel Turvey
Based on its location and the artifacts, this tomb was found to belong to the “Age of Warring States”, about 2,250 years ago, by archaeologists Ding Yan and Zhang Tianen. The two archaeologists concluded that the tomb might have been made for Lady Xia, grandmother of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. Qin reigned from 256 BC, united most of China until 210 BC, and was buried with the famous Terracotta Army near Xi’an.
These primate bones in the collection attracted Turvey’s attention. “Historically, there are Asian monkeys in the center of China. But they are far, farther away than any Asian monkey population today. ”
The tomb also contained leopard, lynx, black bear, pike and a series of pet skeletons. Archaeologist Hu Songmei says that all wild animals belong to this region, so Asian monkeys probably also live near this region. Asian monkeys were high status, widespread pets, and their dead rooms were often arranged so that those who died could “continue to enjoy the life they knew when they survived.” “It is not a fantasy to think that he may have seen this particular monkey,” says Emperor, as the emperor was probably involved in his grandmother’s funeral preparations.
Authorities did not allow the team to sample the DNA bone, which could help identify the animal’s kinship with existing Asian monkeys. Instead, Turvey measured key points in the skull and teeth with Helen Chatterjee and her colleagues, who are experts in Asian monkeys, and tried to compare the dimensions of the remains with the four living monkeys. Statistical analysis found that both the skull and molar teeth were very different from all Asian apes living today; that is, the fossil belonged to a separate genus.
Chatterjee says it fits what we know about Asian monkeys. Asian monkey populations can easily isolate from each other because monkeys spend their lives on treetops and cannot cross gaps in marquises created by rivers or other obstacles. This promotes genetic diversity – four genera living today have a different number of chromosomes.
The team called the new species Junzi imperialis. “Junzi”, a Chinese word, is often used for wise-officials identified with Asian monkeys because these animals were considered more noble and intelligent than other naughty monkeys.
As for what J. imperialis looks like, classic pictures may contain some clues. These animals, with a wide range of colors and facial markings, which are often different from today’s Asian monkey species, are depicted. Turvey says that J. imperialis may be the “tip of the iceberg” and that a number of Asian monkey species that were common throughout China in previous centuries have already been extinct.
The Chinese Empire’s respect for Asian monkeys was apparently not enough to protect their habitat. The fact that forests have been exposed to agriculture in recent centuries and perhaps the beginning of a cooler and drier climate in the center of China has apparently caused disaster for J. imperialis. The same dynamic applies to other Asian apes of today, says David Chivers, a retired primatologist.
Only two dozen members of a species on Hainan island of China remain. “If you destroy the forest, they will disappear. We must stop cutting the forest. This is the only way to save them. ”