5.6.1. First stages

383px-Plesiadapis_cooki_(2)Early evolution of primates

Evolutionary history of the primates can be traced back 65 million years. The oldest known primate-like mammal species, the Plesiadapis, came from North America, but they were widespread in Eurasia and Africa during the tropical conditions of the Paleocene and Eocene.

Early primates flourished in Eurasia and that a lineage leading to the African apes and humans, including Dryopithecus, migrated south from Europe or Western Asia into Africa. The surviving tropical population of primates, which is seen most completely in the upper Eocene and lowermost Oligocene fossil beds of the Faiyum depression southwest of Cairo, gave rise to all living species —lemurs of Madagascar, lorises of Southeast Asia, galagos or “bush babies” of Africa, and the anthropoids: platyrrhine or New World monkeys, catarrhines or Old World monkeys, and the great apes, including humans.

The earliest known catarrhine is Kamoyapithecus from uppermost Oligocene at Eragaleit in the northern Kenya Rift Valley, dated to 24 million years ago. Its ancestry is thought to be species related to Aegyptopithecus, Propliopithecus, and Parapithecus from the Fayum, at around 35 million years ago. In 2010, Saadanius was described as a close relative of the last common ancestor of the crown catarrhines, and tentatively dated to 29–28 million years ago, helping to fill an 11-million-year gap in the fossil record.

In the early Miocene, about 22 million years ago, the many kinds of arboreally adapted primitive catarrhines from East Africa suggest a long history of prior diversification. Fossils at 20 million years ago include fragments attributed to Victoriapithecus, the earliest Old World Monkey. Among the genera thought to be in the ape lineage leading up to 13 million years ago are Proconsul, Rangwapithecus, Dendropithecus, Limnopithecus, Nacholapithecus, Equatorius, Nyanzapithecus, Afropithecus, Heliopithecus, and Kenyapithecus, all from East Africa.


The presence of other generalized non-cercopithecids of middle Miocene age from sites far distant—Otavipithecus from cave deposits in Namibia, and Pierolapithecus and Dryopithecus from France, Spain and Austria—is evidence of a wide diversity of forms across Africa and the Mediterranean basin during the relatively warm and equable climatic regimes of the early and middle Miocene. The youngest of the Miocene hominoids, Oreopithecus, is from coal beds in Italy that have been dated to 9 million years ago.

Molecular evidence indicates that the lineage of gibbons (family Hylobatidae) diverged from Great Apes some 18-12 million years ago, and that of orangutans (subfamily Ponginae) diverged from the other Great Apes at about 12 million years; there are no fossils that clearly document the ancestry of gibbons, which may have originated in a so-far-unknown South East Asian hominoid population, but fossil proto-orangutans may be represented by Sivapithecus from India and Griphopithecus from Turkey, dated to around 10 million years ago.

Divergence of the human clade from other Great Apes

Species close to the last common ancestor of gorillas, chimpanzees and humans may be represented by Nakalipithecus fossils found in Kenya and Ouranopithecus found in Greece. Molecular evidence suggests that between 8 and 4 million years ago, first the gorillas, and then the chimpanzees (genus Pan) split off from the line leading to the humans; human DNA is approximately 98.4% identical to that of chimpanzees when comparing single nucleotide polymorphisms (see human evolutionary genetics). The fossil record of gorillas and chimpanzees is limited. Both poor preservation (rain forest soils tend to be acidic and dissolve bone) andsampling bias probably contribute to this problem.

Other hominins likely adapted to the drier environments outside the equatorial belt, along with antelopes, hyenas, dogs, pigs, elephants, and horses. The equatorial belt contracted after about 8 million years ago. There is very little fossil evidence for the split of the hominin lineage from the lineages of gorillas and chimpanzees. The earliest fossils that have been argued to belong to the human lineage are Sahelanthropus tchadensis (7 Ma) and Orrorin tugenensis (6 Ma), followed byArdipithecus (5.5–4.4 Ma), with species Ar. kadabba and Ar. ramidus.



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