World famous Myanmar primates from Bahin area

The Pondaung Primate. 0
The Pondaung Primate.

By Mann Thit Nyein (Archaeology)

It has been 10 years since I start participating in Myanmar-France field survey on primate fossil in 2008. In the first year our trip to Bahin Village in Myaing Township via Pyay and Pakokku was a very difficult one. Road transport was very bad. As some rains had fallen I vividly remember reciting all the religious verses I knew as we made the journey arduously.

Bahin Village in Magway Region, Pakokku District, Myaing Township had now become a major village tract and the 27 miles journey from Pakokku to Myaing and 16 miles trip from Myaing to Bahin Village can be made on decent modern buses that ply daily to and fro. Bahin Village Tract consist of Htanaunggon, Oo Nap Yin , Shan Tone, Magyikan, Nandawya, Spaykan and Paukkhaung villages and Bahin Village itself had close to 500 households. The village tract with Bahin village and seven other villages had more than 2,000 households in total.

There’s one sub-high school in Bahin village in addition to one station hospital where treatments were provided full time. The major economic activity was agriculture and trade. The village market was full of buyers and sellers from Pakokku, Myaing and Monywa as well as nearby villages and in addition to having a good living standard it also had a police station that contributes toward security and rule of law.

Bahin Village also had the historical Shwe Hintha Pagoda and when the annual pagoda festival was held on the Full Moon Day of Tabaung, it attracts merchants from Pakkoku, Myaing and Monywa and devotees and revellers from nearby villages. In addition to all of these, Bahin Village and its vicinity became a world famous place in archaeology after discovery of more than 40 million years old fossil remains of primates. The latest addition to this village now will be a museum displaying the fossil remains discovered in the area. The museum was constructed by Department of Archaeology and National Museum.

Primates are any mammal of the group that includes the lemurs, lorises, tarsiers, monkeys, apes and humans. Humans and primates had similar evolutionary process. Primates were descendent of tree dwellers. The original habitats of primates are important in the study of its evolutionary process. Primate fossils from Eocene period (55 million to 38 million years ago) were found but most were found from the Oligocene period that starts about 38 million years ago.

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Primate fossils such as Amphipithecus and Pondaungia from about 40 million years ago found in Myanmar was the oldest discovered in the world. Looking back, in 1914 palaeontologist G.D.P. Cotter found the first primate fossil of Myanmar in Pangan, Myaing Township. In honour of the founder, it was named Pondaungia Cotteri. In 1923 Dr. Barnum Brown found another primate fossil near Mogaung village, Pale Township which was named Amphipithecus mogaungensis in honour of the place where it was discovered. In April 1978 Mandalay University Geology Department Lecturer U Ba Maw led 13 students on a field survey in Sagaing Region, Pale Township, Mogaung Village and found two primate teeth fossil remains. The tooth fossil remains were Amphipithecus and Pondaungia discovered by Myanmar experts for the first time. In October 1978 Mandalay University Geology Department Lecturer U Thaw Tint together with demonstrators conducted a field survey near Moguang Village and found more primate teeth fossil remains.

On 14 February 1997 State Peace and Development Council Secretary 1 Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt directed Tatmadaw Office of Strategic Studies and expert geologists from Ministry of Education to jointly explore and search for fossilized remains in Pondaung and formed a Fossil Exploration Team led by Col. Than Tun which conducted exploration works in Pale Township and Myaing Township.

Upon invitation international fossilogists also cooperated and participated in the exploration works. Now, 21 years has passed since Japan and French fossilogists has worked together with Myanmar experts and throughout this period more primate fossil remains were found.

Bahinia Pondaungisis found in the area was considered and widely accepted as the oldest primate fossil found in the world. Ganlea megacanina, a primate lower jaw fossil remain found in November 2008 at Myaing Township Pauk Khaung Village was about 38 million years old.

According to Dr. Chris Beard, palaeontologist at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Natural History, discovery of Ganlea megacanina primate put up a new thought to the previously accepted concept of primates originating from Africa. This discovery was also important in the study of the evolution of Myanmar primates.

The six Myanmar primates fossils Pondaungia, Amphipitehcus, Bahinia, Ganlea, Colonbine and Myanmarpithecus found in Pondaung area were of mid or late Eocene period. The search for primate fossil has been conducted since 1997 and new discovery will become rare and more difficult. As there can be instances of smuggling abroad fossilized remains it should be noted that this amount to destruction and removing our cultural and historical heritages. Now, 25 areas near the vicinity of Magway Region, Pakokku District, Myaing Township, Bahin Village where primate fossil remains were discovered were designated as protected zones. As such locals and the people of the county should come together to protect and maintain this Bahin area as an important cultural and historical heritage area.

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