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Dr A.R Shankhyan discovered two infant lower molar teeth in Bilaspur area in HP

June 08, 2017 05:18 PM

Punjab News Express/Y.S. Rana
CHANDIGARH: Dr A.R Shankhyan, a Himachali from Bilaspur has been keen to get to the bottom of its people’s ancestry since his retirement from Anthropological Survey of India and stepped up his efforts to uncover evidence of early man in Haritalyangar (Bilaspur) of Himachal Pradesh. Recently, he discovered two infant lower molar teeth belonged to an ape-like creature Krishnapithecus from the area.

Indian-US scientists who have studied the two infant molar teeth admitted that the fossils belonged to species that represented an independent family within the extinct primates called Pliopithecines that lived in Asia and Europe between 25 million and 10 million years ago. They also labeled two fossilized teeth of nine million years old and as a fresh evidence for an extinct primate named Krishnapithecus first proposed 38 years ago. The study has also indicated that it was weighed about 15 kg and was slightly larger than the modern black-furred Siamang gibbons found in the present-day Malaysia, Thailand and Sumatra.

Dr Sankhyan believed that perhaps it served as an asylum for hominids during the very late Moicene period of primitive ape-like ancestor from the area 9till now thought to be a native of Eurasia). He further said that it was clinching evidence for the first time in India about the existence of primitive ape-Pliopithecoids in the area. He further said that creatures used to live in the forest of Shivalik Hills here around nine million years ago. The latest discovery in the area is seen as fresh evidence of extinct ancestor of Gibbon in the area, he said. “

“On the primates’ evolutionary tree, Krishnapithecus represents one of the lineages that led to the modern Siamang gibbons,” said Anek Ram Sankhyan. Scientists believe Krishnapithecus was contemporary to Sivapithecus and Indopithecus, two extinct apes that had lived in the northern Indian sub-continent between 12 million and six million years ago. He has also collaborated with Terry Harrison at New York University and Jay Kelly at the University of Arizona to study the fossilized teeth which he had found embedded in clay deposits near Haritalyangar, nearly five years ago.

In a paper published in the Journal of Himan Evolution, the scientists have stated that the molars suggested that Krishnapithecus “was perhaps the largest known Pliopithecoid” and it was “sufficiently distinct” from other Pliopithecoids to be classified as a separate family.

Earlier, two anthropologists from the Panjab University, Chandigarh, had first proposed the existence of an independent Pliopithecoid in 1979 on the basis of a single molar tooth they had recovered from a site near Haritalyangar. “That tooth was the first evidence of something new,” said Rajan Gaur, professor at the department of Anthropology, Panjab University.” At the time, it was also the first fossilized ancestor of a gibbon.

The new fossils would provide additional supporting evidence. A senior geologist at Panjab University who has earlier conducted research on Indopithecus said the new evidence for Krishnapithecus was also significant because it showed Pliopithecines were around longer than previously believed to be.

Based on fossil evidence from Europe, it was earlier thought that Pliopithecines had gone extinct by 11 million years,” Rajeev Patnaik, professor of Geology, said. “But now we know Pliopithecines survived there at least until nine million years ago.”

Sankhyan and his collaborators say the teeth they studied are smaller than those of Sivapithecus and belonged to a primate slightly larger than the living Siamang gibbon that typically weighs 9kg to 13kg. They have also described their findings in Current Science, a journal from the Indian Academy of Sciences.
But some scientists have argued that Sivapithecus was an ancestor of the modern orangutan. "Krishnapithecus was a primitive, distant cousin of Sivapithecus," said Harrison. "Sivapithecus is more closely related to humans than it is to Krishnapithecus. Sivapithecus was similar in size to modern great apes."

It is also stated that the evolutionary relationships of Krishnapithecus were unclear until the latest finds. The new finds have clarified its status. It has become clear that they are Pliopithecoids that lived throughout Europe and Asia from about 18 million year ago to 7 million years ago, Terry Harrison, Director of Centre for the Study of Human Origins in New York University, said who is a co-author of the paper published in two journals.

The two founds of Sankhyan may to bridge a gap to understand the evolution of the primitive old world higher primates that were widespread in Eurasia during the Miocene (from 18 million to 7 million years) ago but their fossil record in South Asia virtually unknown. Dr P.C. Sharma, Officer In Charge, Directorate of Government Museum and Art Gallery, Chandigarh said that it would open up a new window to study the lineage of extinct primates in the sub-continent and the state government should declare it as heritage site. EOM

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