New Chinese homonid?

From: Marty Leipzig

Howdy, campers. Just another installment in "Around the World in 80 Proof" for your edification and enjoyment (and, if you don't like it, hey, your mother is a cow...)

On my way back from my repatriation trip to the States, after the layover in Heathrow where I got the family safely bundled off to Scotland for an extended visit; I noticed a headline in the London Telegraph about yet another fascinating fossil find in the Tarim Basin region (a huge topographic, geomorphic and depositional basin, where I had done some work during my Russia routine) of northwestern China. This time, instead of being early avian remains or further spectacular dinosaur finds that have come to light in recent years; the workers (from the joint 1998 French-Czech Paleontological Expedition) were working the basin's fringes; investigating Late Paleocene to Pleistocene age sediments. What was most interesting is that they were uncovering paleoanthropological specimens, i.e., apparently homonid and homonoid remains; a first for the region.

I knew that my old major Professor Mac McClintock would be up to speed on all this, and he was currently a Broca Chair-holding visiting professor of comparative anatomy at the Royal Museum of Natural History in London. So I took the chance, braved British Telecom and rang him up. Luckily, he was in, would be glad to see me and explain all the goings-on over there. I left Heathrow and tubed it to the RMNH and called on my old college prof.

After a warm greeting, a couple of fine Cuban cigars and a wee bit of warming sherry later, Mac told me all about the story of the latest in Tarim Basin paleontology. Seems that the noted French paleoanthropologist Pierre D'Eau-Remy had discovered a complete skull of an evidently hitherto unknown fossil homonoid. There was immediate controversy as to the taxonomic placement of the skull. Some scientists queried held to the opinion that the skull is from an extinct species of Australopithicine similar to the species _A. bosei_ of the Rift Valley of Africa; with certain craniometric similarities with the other European extinct Australopiticine species: _A. robustus_. Spokesman for this opinion, Dr. Jean-Luc Mossad of the University of Paris, noted that numerous clades of homonids inhabited what is now Southern Mongolia and Northwestern China ~2-3.5 MYA, and it has long been theorized that some may have even traveled as far as the Siberian border to the north; originating inherently out of Africa, and crossing over great distances north and east via land bridges.

The lesser-held but more spectacular view stated by Professor Karl Znojmo of the Natural History Museum of Prague, a co-founder of the China expedition, declares that the skull is from neither Australopithicine *nor* homonid and accepts the find as evidence of the existence of the legendary creature known to the ancient Tibeto- Evenk-Mongol tribes as "Ljah-tze" (pronounced: 'lah-tee'), in many ways similar to the North American Sasquatch and the Himalayan Yeti, and of comparatively recent age, i.e., Late Pleistocene.

The task of identifying the fossil has been given to Dr. Hardy Froliche of the Museum of Man (Musee de Homme) in Paris and Dr. Galina Ivanov of the Prague Academy, both noted paleoanthropologists. But the cost of such investigation is bound to be high, and neither country can afford (or is not willing) to foot the bill for the 14C dating, lab work, technicians and interpretation on their own. Further, the Chinese government has intervened in all this and has threatened to confiscate the original material unless the wwrangling over this impasse is resolved, and resolved quickly.

Museum curator and noted fossil preparator Dr. Rolf van der Schloss, of the University of the Witwatersrand, has suggested in last week's Science that polystyrene casts be made of the original material for plural reasons: (1.) if the originals are lost or impounded, there will be exact duplicates for, at least, morphometric study and (2.) noting the current European passion for artifacts and antiquities, these casts could be auctioned off and the monies thus realized would be used to fund the examination of these spectacular finds.

The global scientific community has remained somewhat uncharacteristically subdued regarding the suggestion of Dr. van der Schloss. Due to the joint nature of the expedition which found the fossils, and the threatened intervention of the sovereign government of China; the big question would remain: when, and if, the duplicates are auctioned off, just who would equitably disburse the D'Eau-Remy fossil "Ljah-Tze" dough?

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