The oldest ape


  • Laura Maclatchy

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    • Laura MacLatchy is Assistant Professor in the Anthropology Department at Boston University and is interested in the evolution of primate locomotor adaptations. Her current field research includes paleontological work near the Moroto, Napak, and Mt. Elgon volcanoes in Uganda, and behavioral studies in Amazonian Ecuador. Her anatomical research has focused on the relationship between external and internal joint morphology and function, particularly in the hip joint


This paper recounts the history and significance of Morotopithecus bishopi, an early Miocene East African ape. Morotopithecus differs in intriguing ways from its contemporary Proconsul. While craniodental differences are slight, the known elements of its postcranium suggest that Morotopithecus was capable of modern ape–like positional behaviors, including vertical postures, deliberate climbing, and arm hanging. In contrast, Proconsul and other early and middle Miocene hominoids have been reconstructed as above–branch quadrupeds. Paleoanthropologists are currently divided over whether and which of the anatomical features associated with upright posture and suspension in the modern apes are due to inheritance or independent evolution. This debate has important implications for interpreting the phylogenetic positions of both Morotopithecus and Proconsul, as well as for reconstructing the pattern and timing of the emergence of modern ape adaptations.