Over 100,000-year-old giant panda fossil found in China

GUIYANG, Dec. 8 (Xinhua) -- A giant panda fossil, dating back over 100,000 years, has been uncovered in Asia's longest cave in southwest China's Guizhou Province, researchers said Wednesday.

(File photo: Xinhua)

Researchers from the Institute of Mountain Resources under Guizhou Academy of Sciences found two fossils of the species in Shuanghe Cave, Zunyi City. With the help of tooth-enamel dating technologies, one of the fossils indicates a wild giant panda living about 102,000 years ago, and the other is likely to have existed on the planet around 49,000 years ago.

It is rare to discover such well-preserved giant panda fossils anywhere, said Wang Deyuan, research assistant of the institute.

In the latest joint scientific research with foreign experts, evidence of radial sesamoid bones was discovered in the fossils.

Because giant pandas use thumbs to hold and manipulate bamboo while eating, the limbs of the species are different from those of other bears, with an extra 'thumb.' The 'thumb' is, in fact, an abnormally enlarged wrist bone, and it helps the species grasp bamboo shoots.

The discovery reflects that giant pandas, at that time, already had the physiological conditions of using forepaws flexibly to grab bamboo, like modern pandas. The finding helps deepen understanding of the species' evolution of its feeding characteristics, said Wang.

Shuanghe Cave was suitable habitat for giant pandas, at the time, due to its complex internal structure and many holes connected in series. So far, nearly 30 giant panda fossils have been discovered in the cave.

The cave is rich in mammal fossil resources. Fossils of jackals, rhinoceroses, black bears, stegodons, large Indian civets, and other animals have been found in previous excavations.