October 21, 2008

Gigantopithecus or Paranthropus?

Paranthropus Skull

Paranthropus sp. image courtesy of Skulls Unlimited

Based on a comment maker’s question here about how does Paranthropus fit into all of this Bigfoot business, let me revisit this topic.

Taking the stance that Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Oh-Mah, whatever you wish to call the classic Neo-Giants of the Pacific Northwest, do exist, what fossil candidate fits best with the reportedly upright, hairy, 6 feet to 8.5 feet tall forest giants of North America?

Everyone seems to be Gigantopithecus lovers, right? But what of the other major fossil choice, Paranthropus?

The general scientific agreement is that Gigantopithecus specimens were in the range of about 10 feet tall, in fully grown adults. Some of the fossil primate scholars most linked to Gigantopithecus even have interpretations that assume Gigantopithecus was not bipedal.

Other than mandibles and over a thousand teeth, no other bones of Gigantopithecus have been found. Despite this, the late Grover Krantz and others have constantly said that Gigantopithecus is the best fossil candidate for Sasquatch. The one major fossil candidate often overlooked by the Krantz camp is Paranthropus.

The other favored fossil affinity for Bigfoot was proposed in 1971 by Gordon Strasenburgh, who wrote of his theory in scientific journals, self-published booklets, and through correspondence with other cryptozoologists. Strasenburgh thought Bigfoot would be found to be related to Paranthropus robustus and suggested that the name Paranthropus eldurrelli be used for the Bigfoot of the Pacific Northwest.

Paranthropus is a fossil hominid genus initially assigned by Robert Broom to a robust form of australopithecine found at Kromdraai and Swartkrans in South Africa. One of the most famous Paranthropus species is boisei, discovered by Mary Leakey in 1959 at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. It is known for its massive jaw muscles and huge back teeth the size of quarters that inspired the nickname "Nutcracker Man."

The evidence gathered to date suggests the Neo-Giants could very well be Paranthropus. In Neo-Giants, as in primates that have large jaws and well-developed chewing muscles (e.g., gorillas and baboons), the skull’s parietal bones continues upward at the midline to form a sagittal crest. The early fossil evidence shows that Paranthropus of both genders exhibited a sagittal crest–a feature that provides a very strong link to the male and female Neo-Giants seen today.

In Southeast Asia, during the 1940s, paleoanthropologists Franz Weidenreich and Ralph von Koenigswald found evidence, generally ignored by anthropologists, that Gigantopithecus (the very strong and enormous anthropoid ape), Meganthropus palaeojavanicus (the great man of ancient Java, which some see as an example of Paranthropus), and two different species or subspecies of Homo erectus (namely the so-called Java apeman and the Peking man), all lived at the same time.

Then in 1996, Carl C. Swisher III of the Berkeley Geochronology Center found new data indicating that Homo erectus had indeed lived in Java at the same time as Homo sapiens, the modern human. Using new techniques to date fossils found at Solo River, Java, Swisher’s team concluded that the supposedly very much older species known as Homo erectus had actually lived in Java as recently as 53,000 to 27,000 years ago. This was earth-shaking news to anthropologists who had assumed a much older date for Homo erectus.

Also in 1996, researchers lead by Russell Ciochon and Vu The Long discussed the apparent co-occurrence of Homo erectus and Gigantopithecus blacki in Tham Khuyen Cave, Vietnam. This giant ape was contemporaneous with archaic humans throughout its range from six million to 300,000 years ago. That is quite a long and successful span of coexistence, and Gigantopithecus must have been a formidable “neighbor”–a true giant on the landscape of the world with the little near-humans and humans like so many troublesome distant cousins breeding furiously and taking up living space.

So this is what we know. Apes, near-humans, and humans lived at the same time, probably just as they continue to today. And gorillas and various other great apes, and such fossil species as Paranthropus show sagittal crests in females as well as males. Krantz’s reconstruction of Gigantopithecus with a sagittal crest is only logical based on the massive mandibles that have been discovered, which show evidence of heavy chewing probably taking place. Also Krantz, no doubt, added them too because he considered the Sasquatch his living model. But, of course, we don’t really know if Gigantopithecus had sagittal crests. We do, however, clearly know that Paranthropus did have these crests, as we have fossils with them on the top of the skulls.

Among various problems I have with Gigantopithecus, therefore, is the very large size of this ape, which would have put them at the extreme end of any Bigfoot heights recorded in sightings that most people studying these cryptids would consider valid. Paranthropus, at between 5.5 plus, and maybe evolving to 7.5 feet, with known sagittal crests, I sense, is a more plausible fossil candidate for the classic PNW Bigfoot, the Neo-Giants. The case is straightforward for me. It seems unfortunate that people have spent a lot of time studying the few bones of Gigantopithecus as the "celebrity big fossil ape," when more attention might be usefully devoted examining Paranthropus.

For those interested in the question of Paranthropus, I recommend an article:

Clarke, Ronald J. "The Genus Paranthropus: What’s in a Name?" in W. E. Meikle, F. C. Howell, and N. G. Jablonski (eds) Contemporary Issues in Human Evolution (San Francisco: California Academy of Sciences, 1996) Memoir 21, pages 93-104.

Clarke talks about the use of the name Paranthropus and the generic separation it denotes as having "well-known and long-standing support." Indeed, he writes that "the name Paranthropus has been alive and well and supported by zoologically sound credentials. It is certainly welcome news that more human anatomists and physical anthropologists are coming to the belated realization that Paranthropus merits generic distinction, but it is to the zoologist John Robinson that credit must be given for not only recognizing this from the outset, but also for his many clear explanations of why this was so."

Paranthropus is a unique, intriguing-looking primate which fills the bill for what the Pacific Northwest Bigfoot has been and is. The African Paranthropus has been associated to the Asian Meganthropus, which appears to be linked to the American Sasquatch.

What do you think?

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

Filed under Bigfoot, Cryptomundo Exclusive, CryptoZoo News, Extinct, Fossil Finds, Sasquatch