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Media Article # 338
Article submitted by Dave Dial
Wednesday, June 18, 2003
Gigantic Footstep into the Past
By James Steinberg
San Diego Union Tribune
His name is Gigantopithecus, he may have stood as much as 10 feet tall, weighed half a ton or more and is thought to have become extinct about 400,000 years ago. If he isn't in hiding and the source of all those alleged Big Foot, Sasquatch, Abominable Snowman and Yeti sightings, that is.
All scientists have ever seen of him are a few fossil teeth and jawbones, but he took up residence in Balboa Park Monday in the form of a life-sized replica on the second floor of the Museum of Man.
The museum's Gigantopithecus is 8 feet tall, made of silicone and fiberglass and other synthetics on a steel frame and weighs about 500 pounds. Only his horsehair whiskers are natural, said George York of YFX Studios, a Sacramento firm that builds animated re- creations for museums and the movies.
Gigantopithecus being a mouthful, York refers to his creation as Mighty G. Young, after Hollywood's "Mighty Joe Young," a film in the "King Kong" genre. Rose Tyson, the Museum of Man's curator of physical anthropology, calls him, simply, Mr. G., and says the big primate, once native to what is now southern China and Vietnam, may have been alive at the same time as Homo erectus, a precursor of modern man.
"He may have been in competition with the giant panda for bamboo and also may have been hunted for food by early hominids," the likeliest explanations for his extinction, Tyson said.
The new addition completes the museum's $3 million exhibit called "Footsteps Through Time: Four Million Years of Human Evolution," which opened in February 2002.
Although some teeth and a jaw may not seem like much to go on when it comes to re-creating an entire skeleton and then fleshing it out, accepted head-body ratios and other mathematical data were used for this reconstruction, Tyson said.
Much of the work was done during the 1970s by Steven N. Byers, a forensic physio-anthropologist at the University of New Mexico, who collaborated on the museum's new Gigantopithecus, York said.
The Museum of Man had an earlier replica of the same primate, removed in 1989, and it was a popular "photo op," according to Tyson.
"People used to stand in front of him and have their pictures taken," she said.
Unlike its predecessor, the new Gigantopithecus has motorized eyes, triggered by an infrared sensor, that move when visitors approach, York said.
Gigantopithecus stands against a bare wall at the moment, but he will be placed in a reconstruction of what was once his natural surroundings of bamboo and a rock cave.
That final phase of the exhibit should be completed in about a month, said Nancy Moran of Escondido-based Nature Works, which creates environments for zoos and museums.
This article doesn't delve into the various splits of opinion in the scientific community regarding the fate of Gigantopithecus. Some believe Gigantos became extinct due to competition with, or predation by, early man. Others argue that early man could not have wiped out Gigantos completely in every area.
In recent years an increasing number of influential primatologists have taken an interest in bigfoot/sasquatch evidence, to explore the possibility of a connection between the Giganto mystery and the Bigfoot phenomena. Among them is the nation's authority on primate anatomy, Dr. Daris Swindler of Washington State University. Dr. Swindler now says there is solid scientific evidence supporting the contention that descendents of the Giganto line still persist today, and some are living in North America.
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