A new species of gibbon is found in a 2,200-year-old tomb

Jun 21, 2018

ROYAL burials are just not what they used to be. While still a child, Qin Shihuang, who founded the Qin dynasty and unified China in 221BC, ordered a mausoleum built for himself that would measure 6.3km across at its widest point and include over 8,000 terracotta figures. His grandmother, Lady Xia, was also buried with several companions. When her tomb near Xi’an was excavated in 2004, archaeologists found in it the remains of a leopard, a lynx, a crane and a gibbon—a type of small ape.

Gibbons were treasured in ancient China. They served as pets for the elite in Lady Xia’s time and as models for fine art a few hundred years later. But the bones from the tomb are particularly extraordinary. In a paper published this week in Science, Samuel Turvey of the Institute of Zoology, in London, and his colleagues, show that they match those of no gibbon alive, so must come from a species that has become extinct since Lady Xia’s day.

The gibbon received a burial fit...

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