Know Your Primate: Nakalipithecus nakayamai

Order: Primates
Suborder Anthropoidea
Infraorder Catarrhini
Superfamily Hominoidea
Genus: Nakalipithecus
Species: Nakalipithecus nakayamai
It’s been awhile since I have used a fossil primate in this series, so “ripped straight from the headlines” (as they say in the Law and Order commercials) here is Nakalipithecus nakayamai:


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Nakalipithecus nakayamai was found in the Nakali region of Kenya and dates to 9.88-9.74 MYA. The find consists of a partial lower mandible and some isolated teeth (canine, incisors, deciduous premolar, adult premolars, and molars). A P3 representing an unidentified large bodied hominoid was also found. As is standard practice when announcing new species, Nakalipithecus nakayamai was compared to a wide variety of Miocene hominoids and is most similar to Ouranopithecus. Analysis of the teeth indicates some sexual dimorphism. A picture of the canine and incisors is below:
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The arrow points to a lingual cusplet on the canine. Molars seem to be less specialized towards hard/abrasive foods than Ouranopithecus.
Nakali%203.JPG
Although a lot of press coverage has been devoted to the possibility that this is the “missing link” between apes and humans, aided and abetted by the authors themselves, this angle is less important than the fact that there are now three known (Nakalipithecus, Samburupithecus, and Chororapithecus) and one, as yet, unidentified species of large bodied hominoid in mid to late Miocene Africa. I expect more will be found now that we have evidence that hominoid diversity in mid to late Miocene Africa has been somewhat underestimated…

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7 Responses

  1. It is suggested, from time to time, that the close genetic similarity of Homo and Pan species justifies synonomizing Pan with Homo. If this were done, then all the species back to and including the unique common ancestor of Homo and Pan would be lumped into Homo. I suppose folks comfortable with the multitudinous named fossil genera would not be pleased. I don’t support this because of the morphological differences between Homo and Pan. I do think it is good taxonomy to place all the great apes in the family Homonidae.

  2. I’ve always thought the idea of putting humans in with chimps was a little bit fringe. I think, based on the morphological, ecological, and behavioral differences the apes should be taxonomically distinct from humans. I tend to favor the taxonomy used by Conroy in Reconstructing Human Origins.

  3. Is there a reason you use the outdated suborder Anthropoidea instead of the cladistically correct suborder Haplorrhini?

  4. “I’ve always thought the idea of putting humans in with chimps was a little bit fringe”. I wonder what chimpanzees think. They probably lump humans with gorillas and regard themselves as being special.

  5. Jeff – That is the way it was classified in the paper. I had debated using Haplorrhini, but decided to go with the way it was classified in the paper. As to why the authors did it that way, I do not know. I’m tempted to find out…
    terryt – Based on the way we treat them I expect they would classify us with the skunks…not that I have anything against skunks.

  6. Humans put together with chimps in one family.. at last we are not alone on this planet!

  7. Anthropoidea isn’t wrong at all. It is the name of a clade. Haplorhini is the name of a clade that includes Anthropoidea. What is wrong is Prosimii.
    Now, if you happen to regard both Anthropoidea and Haplorhini as suborders and follow the ICZN, you aren’t allowed to use both names at once. The silliness of Linnaean ranks…

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