Juvenile hominoid cranium from the terminal Miocene of Yunnan, China
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- Ji, X., Jablonski, N.G., Su, D.F. et al. Chin. Sci. Bull. (2013) 58: 3771. doi:10.1007/s11434-013-6021-x
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Fossil apes are known from several late Miocene localities in Yunnan Province, southwestern China, principally from Shihuiba (Lufeng) and the Yuanmou Basin, and represent three species of Lufengpithecus. They mostly comprise large samples of isolated teeth, but there are also several partial or complete adult crania from Shihuiba and a single juvenile cranium from Yuanmou. Here we describe a new, relatively complete and largely undistorted juvenile cranium from the terminal Miocene locality of Shuitangba, also in Yunnan. It is only the second ape juvenile cranium recovered from the Miocene of Eurasia and it is provisionally assigned to the species present at Shihuiba, Lufengpithecus lufengensis. Lufengpithecus has most often been linked to the extant orangutan, Pongo pygmaeus, but recent studies of the crania from Shihuiba and Yuanmou have demonstrated that this is unlikely. The new cranium reinforces the view that Lufengpithecus represents a distinct, late surviving lineage of large apes in the late Miocene of East Asia that does not appear to be closely affiliated with any extant ape lineage. It substantially increases knowledge of cranial morphology in Lufengpithecus and demonstrates that species of this genus represent a morphologically diverse radiation of apes, which is consistent with the dynamic tectonic and biotic milieu of southwestern China in the late Miocene.