Scientists announced on Friday they have found a giant panda fossil in central China, the first to be discovered so far north suggesting that eons ago the bear may have roamed as far north as Beijing.
The fossilized tooth of a giant panda was unearthed in June at the Lingjing historical site in the city of Xuchang, Henan Province.
The discovery proves that giant pandas roamed over a much wider area during prehistoric times, some 120,000 years ago.
Huang Wanbo, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology said his team worked on the fossil for nearly two months to ensure the veracity of the finding.
Previously, pandas were thought to have lived only south of the Qinling Mountains which run east to west almost cutting the country in half.
Giant panda fossils have been found in more than ten provinces south of the Qinling Mountains.
Huang said the new finding suggests that tens of thousands of years ago the climate in central China, north of the Qinling Mountains, was much milder and likely supported bamboo forests, the staple food of giant panda.
Today China's giant pandas are mainly distributed in Sichuan, Shaanxi and the southern part of Gansu Province - south of the Qinling range.
Huang said the likely reason giant panda's disappeared from north of the Qinling mountains is climate change.
Huang said the new fossil also lends credence to an unproved archaeological theory first raised early last century.
In 1929 renowned Chinese scholar Pei Wenzhong, discovered the skull of the famous Peking Man who lived more than 200,000 years ago near the city of Beijing. Among the many other fossils Pei suggested one of them was a bone of giant panda.
His hypothesis was widely questioned at that time. Many scientists said it was impossible for giant pandas, which require a mild, subtropical climate, to live in the colder northern areas.
Huang said the Lingjing site, where the Panda's tooth was found, is not much more than 500 kilometers from Beijing suggesting that Peking Man could have very well dined out on giant panda.
(Xinhua News Agency September 2, 2006)