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Keywords:

  • Hominoid;
  • Oreopithecus;
  • Nyanzapithecus;
  • Maboko Island

Abstract

Recent paleontological collections at the middle Miocene locality of Maboko Island in Kenya, dated at 15–16 million years, have yielded numerous new specimens belonging to at least five species of fossil anthropoids. The most common species of ape at the site, a medium-sized primate with a very distinctive dental morphology, clearly represents a previously undescribed taxon. When compared with other Miocene anthropoids from East Africa, it has its closest affinities with the poorly known species Rangwapithecus vancouveringi from the early Miocene locality of Rusinga Island. The species from Maboko Island is described here as belonging to a new genus of fossil anthropoid, to which “Rangwapithecus” vancouveringi is also referred. The new genus has a highly distinctive suite of derived characters of its molars and premolars, which it shares with Oreopithecus bambolii from the late Miocene of Europe. These synapomorphies indicate a close phyletic relationship between the East African species and Oreopithecus and form the basis for the inclusion of these taxa in a single family, the Oreopithecidae Schwalbe, 1915. In many respects, however, the East African forms are more conservative than Oreopithecus, and in a general sense they can be regarded as an intermediate grade between Oreopithecus and the more generalized early Miocene catarrhines, the proconsuloids. There is, therefore, good fossil evidence to indicate that the origins of the Oreopithecidae can be traced back to the early Miocene of Africa.