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Keywords:

  • Paleontology;
  • Hominoidea;
  • apes;
  • Propliopithecus;
  • Aegyptopithecus;
  • Africa

Abstract

Three years of field excavations in the Oligocene strata of the Fayum Province, Egypt, have yielded more than two dozen new jaws and teeth of fossil apes. This material contributes significantly to our understanding of catarrhine systematics and phylogeny. Here we present a systematic revision of the earliest apes and discuss their relationship with Miocene forms.

Two ape species have been recovered from Quarries I and M in the Upper Fossil Wood zone of the Jebel el Qatrani Formation, Aegyptopithecus zeuxis and Propliopithecus (=Aeolopithecus) chirobates. Female Propliopithecus chirobates have small canines which somewhat resemble those of the enigmatic Propliopithecus haeckeli, but have a longer, narrower P3 than the latter. No specimens of either P. haeckeli or Moeripithecus markgrafi have been found in the Upper Fossil Wood zone after ten field seasons, suggesting that these species may occur only lower in the section.

Aegyptopithecus and Propliopithecus have no shared derived features that exclude them from the ancestry either of Old World monkeys or apes. Thus, Aegyptopithecus, the better known form, is suitably primitive to have been the ancestor of all later Old World monkeys and apes (and hominids). The possibility of a separate gibbon or hominid lineage going back to the Oligocene is unlikely on present evidence.