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The Prehistoric Primate Thread- Lemurs, apes, monkeys etc (except hominins)


  • The gibbon (which has unusually large canines) was found along with other animals (leopard, bear, crane etc) inside an ancient Chinse tomb supposedly belonging to a member of the Imperial family. The gibbon has been named Junzi imperialis and may represent the real animal behind the mysterious (and ubiquitous) gibbon paintings found in parts of China where these apes are no longer found. If so, then the ancient Chinese left us plenty of depictions of what these gibbons looked like alive.

    The gibbon may have been the first ape species to go extinct by human activity in historical times.


  • Meganthropus reinterpreted as non-hominin ape

    Apparently the semi-legendary Meganthropus, long interpreted as particularly large specimens of Homo erectus , has been re-examined and found to be a non-human ape, most similar to Lufengpithecus.


    When interpreted as an erectus-like hominin, Meganthropus was once estimated (not without controversy) as perhaps measuring 2.4-3 m tall and weighing up to 300 kg or so, although this was informal speculation based on the very fragmentary remains (mostly jaws, teeth and skull fragments). Now that it is believed to be a Lufengpithecus-like ape, its size is even more uncertain (but Lufengpithecus has proportionally large teeth and jaws so probably nowhere near as large as the near mythical hominin!Meganthropus.

    The study suggests Indonesia during the early-mid Pleistocene would've been inhabited by four kinds of great ape; Homo, Gigantopithecus, Pongo (orangutan) and Meganthropus.

  • About the size of today's talapoin (the smallest Old World monkey), Nanopithecus would've been contemporary with Australopithecus anamensis.



    Despite its small size, Nanopithecus still dwarfs many of today's New World monkeys, such as the pygmy marmoset which is the smallest living monkey species:


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  • Article is from 2013 and in Spanish, but interesting as it describes the discovery of a giant monkey from Pleistocene South America:

    Some of the juicy parts:
    Over 15.000 years ago, what is today Brazil was inhabited by a monkey twice as big as the muriqui or woolly spider monkey, the largest living monkey in the New World. The proof of its existence is based on an almost complete skeleton found in 1992 in a cave in the state of Bahia.

    The species, named Cartelles coimbrafilhoi[/I], explored the jungle floor like a chimpanzee. At the same time, despite its large size, it could climb trees and swing from the branches as skillfully as its smaller relatives, the Atelidae, which include the howler, spider and woolly monkeys. It probably did not move or behave like any of today's New World monkeys, however.

    The first descriptions of the fossils (found in 1992) were published in 1996... the first species, named Caipora bambuiorum, was a larger version of today's spider monkey. Although it would've weighed about 20 kg (being twice as large as the spider monkey), C. bambuiorum would've moved in a similar way, able to use both arms and legs and its prehensile tail for arboreal locomotion.

    The other skeleton was more enigmatic (...) it was first believed to be the same species as a monkey whose remains (a fragmentary femur and an arm bone) were identified in 1836 as the first primate fossil ever found, Protopithecus brasiliensis, mentioned by Charles Darwin in his Origin of Species and estimated in the most recent studies to have weighed up to 24 kg.

    However, there were slight differences (between the newer remains and those of Protopithecus)... with the newer specimen showing a strange combination of features. The fossil's dentition, although worn, seemed to combine characteristics of two subfamilies, the alouattinae (howler monkeys) and the atelinae (spider monkeys), as did the rest of the skeleton. The species seemed like an amalgamation of these two groups which diverged over 12.9 million years ago.

    Now an article published this month in the Journal of Human Evolution suggests that the fossils asigned to P. brasiliensis are really a different species.

    Protopithecus, although fragmentary, would've been similar to a muriqui but twice as big. The newer skeleton belongs to the howler monkey group and has been named Cartelles coimbrafilhoi (...) it would've been between 25 and 28 kg, being the largest of the four large species of monkey that lived in South America during the Pleistocene.

    The C. coimbrafilhoi would've been 1.67 m from head to tip of the tail and its skull base and jaw are similar to the muriqui's, but most of the skull is more like the howler monkey, even with the same large space that protects the vocal apparatus of these animals, able to produce calls audible from 5 km away.

    Still, we cannot be sure if Cartelles howled as loudly or even more than its modern relatives, due to the potency of their calls being linked not only to size but also to each species' social habits and environment.

    The rest of the skeleton is like a spider monkey's, but more robust. The bones' structure suggests strong muscles, adapted to climbing and hanging. The animal was originally thought to be at home in trees but because of its large size was later suggested to have lived in the jungle floor. As a rule, only smaller species can afford to be arboreal due to the risk for a larger animal to fall, but this is not always the case. Most arboreal monkeys of the Old World weigh around 10 kg but the largest arboreal primate, the orangutan, can weigh up to 100 kg.

    Other than being far smaller than an orangutan, Cartelles also had a long and thick tail to grasp at branches although more studies are needed to determine whether it was as prehensile as that of modern Atelidae's.

    In any case the bones do suggest that it had largely terrestrial habits (...) it seems likely that it had behavior similar to today's chimpanzees, which are great climbers but spend most of their time on the ground.

    The four species of large monkey that lived in Brazil- Cartelles coimbrafilhoi, Caipora mamuiorum, Protopithecus brasiliensis and Alouatta mauroi- coexisted with the likes of giant ground sloths and sabertooth tigers and may have gone extinct due to climate change, the larger primates being more vulnerable to extinction (than the smaller ones) independently of cause.



  • A more recent article on the large South American monkeys, also in Spanish:


    CAT scan reconstructs the skulls of Caipora and Cartelles and compares them to modern day monkeys.
    Cástor Cartelle's hypothesis from 20 years ago, that Caipora was similar to a giant spider monkey is not verified; our data indicates this extinct monkey would be a lot more like a giant muriqui (woolly monkey)


    As for the Cartelles fossil, the analysis reveals surprises; the data does not group clearly with any of the four living genera of Atelidae, but rather fill the morphological void between howler monkeys and spider and woolly monkeys.
    The entire linneage of the New World primates, found from northern Argentina to Mexico and the Caribbean, descends from a single group of founders, small African monkeys that traveled across the ancient Atlantic (back then just a third of its current size) on floating rafts of vegetation, about 45 million years ago.

  • Bipedalism among hominids probably older than thought, as suggested by the remains of the Miocene Rudapithecus.

    This adds to the idea that we did not evolve from knuckle-walking apes like chimpanzees, but rather than all great apes evolved from bipedal ancestors.


  • Teeth from large, baboon-like macaque Paradolichopithecus found in Serbia, offers clues about warmer times:


    Paradolichopithecus was a very large, mostly terrestrial monkey, comparable in size to today's mandrill.


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  • Danuvius, a Miocene ape found in Germany; at 12 million years old it is the oldest example of a bipedal ape and supports the idea that hominids were already walking bipedally before abandoning a tree-dwelling lifestyle.

    It may have walked along branches and even on the ground some 12 million years ago, pushing back the timeline for bipedal walking, say researchers.

    he four fossils - of a male, two females and a juvenile - were unearthed in a clay pit in Bavaria between 2015 and 2018.

    The fossils of Danuvius guggenmosi, which lived 11.62 million years ago, suggest that it was well adapted to both walking upright on two legs as well as using all four limbs while climbing like an ape.

    These findings suggest that bipedal walking evolved in the trees over 12 million years ago, the researchers said.

    "Danuvius combines the hindlimb-dominated bipedality of humans with the forelimb-dominated climbing typical of living apes," explained Prof David Begun, a researcher from the University of Toronto.

    The male has the most complete skeleton, which resembles that of modern-day bonobos. It was about one metre in height and tipped the scales at about 31 kg. Females weighed about 18 kg, less than any great ape alive today.

  • Molecular analysis confirms kinship between Gigantopithecus and modern orangutans;


    No post-cranial remains yet, though. u-u

  • Spanish cave yields fossils, new info on prehistoric baboon diet.

    Theropithecus oswaldi was a large relative of today's gelada baboon (Theropithecus gelada) which is now restricted to the Ethiopian mountains and feeds, unusually for a monkey, mostly on grass.

    The new study suggests T. oswaldi had a more varied diet, more similar to that of mandrills and mangabeys.

    Article is in Spanish.

    The Cueva Victoria site in Cartagena (Murcia) is the only fossil site in Europe where remains of the baboon Theropithecus oswaldi, which originated in eastern Africa around four million years old, have been found. From the only European remains of this primate, its diet has been analyzed for the first time.

    The study publish in the Journal of Human Evolution has been made thanks to analysis of dental microwear patterns (...) show differences with Theropithecus gelada, the closest living relative, which feeds on grass and stalks in northern Ethiopia.

    The Cueva Victoria individuals had a diet more durophagous (hard foods) and similar to that of other primates such as mangabeys (Cercocebus) and mandrills (Mandrillus sphinx) which feed on seeds and hard fruits in forested and semi open habitats.

    The difference found between the T. oswaldi and T. gelada individuals suggests the specialization we see today (in gelada) could be a derived one that did not exist in fossil forms of the same linneage.

    Genus Theropithecus spread beyond the Sahara desert from east to north and to the south of the African continent. Its linneage was present also in some parts of Europe and Asia and then became almost extinct around 500.000 years ago. Today it is represented only by one species, Theropithecus gelada.

    In 1990, a dig directed by paleontologist Josep Gibert found the first fossil at Cueva Victoria, a tooth of Theropithecus oswaldi. This karst cave- formerly a manganese mine- has yielded fossils of a hundred vertebrate species and is one of the few early Pleistocene sites that have yielded hominin remains.

    Baboon fossils are very rare outside of Africa and have thus far only been found in Ubeidiya (Israel) and Minzapur (India).

  • Ancient monkey linneage colonized South America long before the platyrhines, fossils found in the Peruvian Amazon.


  • Danuvius, a prehistoric ape over 11 million years old found in Germany, shows evidence of bipedal locomotion on trees, with human-like adaptations of the lower legs but feet capable of grasping- may be as close as we have to the common ancestor of all modern apes and their respective ways of locomotion.

    At 1 meter tall and around 20-30 kg, it was not a very large animal.


  • Paralouatta, an extinct monkey from Cuba, may be the first known New World monkey known to have spent considerable amount of time on the ground, new study suggests:


  • Gibbon fossils found in India are the first ape remains from the Siwalik site to be found in 30 years. It fills a gap in the evolutionary story of gibbons and is recognized as a new genus, Kapi.


  • Oldest monkeys outside of Africa found in China- the fossils are 6.4 million years old. They are suggested as ancestral to modern day Asian monkeys.


  • Only known prehistoric art depicting giant lemurs found in Madagascar cave:



    Also interesting, the cave shows art very similar to that found previously in Borneo: