Pliopithecoidea is an extinct superfamily of catarrhine primates that
inhabited Asia and Europe during the Miocene. Although they were
once a widespread and diverse group of primates, the Pliopithecoids
have no living descendants.
1 History of discovery
2 Physical characteristics
History of discovery
The first fossil specimens attributed to
Édouard Lartet in Sansan, France in 1837. These fossils
were later referenced by
Henri Marie Ducrotay de Blainville
Henri Marie Ducrotay de Blainville in 1839,
who named the type species
Pliopithecus antiquus. A second species,
Pliopithecus platyodon, was discovered in Switzerland by Biedermann in
1863. Following this, a small number of other pliopithecoid species
were described from fossil collections found in France, Germany, and
In the mid-twentieth century, paleontologists Johannes Hürzeler and
Helmuth Zapfe reinvigorated interest in the pliopithecoids with a
series of publications in which they named a number of new species,
Pliopithecus vindobonensis, which consists of the most
complete cranial and post-cranial pliopithecoid specimens ever
discovered. Based on their size, and some superficial similarities to
modern day gibbons, Zapfe suggested that pliopithecoids were ancestral
With the discovery of more European pliopithecoid fossils in the mid
to late 1970s, and subsequent discovery of pliopithecoid fossils
in China, the idea that pliopithecoids were ancestral to gibbons
fell out of favor. Today, most paleontologists agree that
pliopithecoids hold a basal position in the catarrhine family
tree. As such, pliopithecoids represent something similar to
the common ancestor of Old World monkeys and apes.
A femur discovered in
Eppelsheim and given the Genus name Paidopithex
was for many years controversial, as its large size compared to
Pliopithecoids led to suggestions that it was instead related to the
Dryopithecini. A lack of femurs for
Dryopithecini meant that the
suggestion was not ruled out for many years, but in 2002 work by
Köhler et al comparing it to a recently discovered Dryopithecus
laietanus skeleton showed that it was very different from the
Dryopithecini. However, Köhler felt unable to definitely place
Paidopithex in the Pliopithecoid superfamily, stating it was either an
unusually large Pliopithecoid (estimated bodyweight 22 kg) or
could be the sole known species of a separate superfamily.
A worn tooth found near Haritalyangar in India and dated from around 9
to 8 million years ago has been suggested as possibly a Pliopithecoid
species, Krishnapithecus krishnai, but the wear has made this
difficult to determine. However, two recently discovered molars in
the same area appear to support this, with placement within the
superfamily uncertain (but clearly not Crouzeliinae)
The pliopithecoid fossil record mostly consists of teeth with a few
mandibular and maxillary fragments. The dental formula (188.8.131.52)
and shape of the teeth are the primary factors which include
pliopithecoids among the catarrhini. Although some authors have argued
that the narrow upper molars and broad upper molars of pliopithecoids
demonstrate their affinity with modern catarrhines, others have
demonstrated that these traits are variable between species. In
fact, pliopithecoids are more similar to New World monkeys in some
aspects of their dentition, including narrow lower incisors
(mesiodistally waisted towards the base of the crown). Many
species have what is often referred to as a 'pliopithecine triangle',
a subtle set of ridges defining a small triangular shaped pit between
the protocone and hypocone of the lower molars, but even this trait is
variable. Instead, the most defining dental trait present in
all pliopithecoids is a tall crowned lower third premolar, which is
relatively triangular in outline with a comparatively short,
vertically oriented mesiobucal face.
The crania of P. vindobonesis, Laccopithecus robustus, Pliopithecus
Anapithecus hernyaki demonstrate that pliopithecoids
had relatively large and globular braincases with a projecting
snout. The snout projects less than the propliopithecoids of
North Africa (i.e. Aegyptopithecus), suggesting some prognathic
reduction from the inferred common ancestor of these two primate
families. The orbits are widely spaced and the mandible is long and
robust, with a relatively broad ramus. Most importantly, however,
pliopithecoids had an incompletely ossified ectotympanic tube. This
anatomical feature represents an intermediate stage between what is
found in platyrrhines, which do not have an ossified ectotympanic
tube, and catarrhines, which have a completely ossified ectoympanic
Nearly all of what is known about the body proportions and
post-cranial morphology of this family are derived from Pliopithecus
vindobonensis, as it is the only species for which a complete skeleton
has been found. Still, the majority of fossil material indicates
that pliopithecoids were medium sized primates, approximately the size
of a howler monkey or a gibbon (8 kg). Köhler estimates a
slightly higher average weight of 10 kg. Post-cranially,
pliopithecoids had an interesting mix of platyrrhine and catarrhine
traits. The brachial index of P. vindobonesis (the length of the
radius divided by the length of the humerus) is similar to that of a
howler monkey, but the crural index (the length of the tibia divided
by the length of the femur) is similar to that of a gibbon.
Proportionally, however, the forelimbs of P. vindobonesis were shorter
than their hindlimbs, making them comparable to a baboon. The hands
and feet of P. vindobonesis were long and curved, suggesting that
pliopithecoids were adept and agile climbers. The post-crania of
P. vindobonesis also shows that Pliopithecoids had an entepicondylar
foramen, which is a primitive trait not found in any other catarrhine
primates (extant or extinct). The wrist and hands of
pliopithecoids were seemingly much more similar to platyrrhines than
to catarrhines, as the carpo-metacarpal joint of the thumb is a
modified “hinge joint” compared to the "saddle-like" thumb joint
found in Old World monkeys and apes. Pliopithecoids also had a
The following Classification scheme represents multiple sources.
Order Primates (Linnaeus, 1758)
Catarrhini (Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 1812)
Pliopithecoidea (Zapfe, 1960)
Pliopithecidae (Zapfe, 1960)
Subfamily Dionysopithecinae (Li, 1978)
Genus Dionysopithecus (Li, 1978)
Dionysopithecus shuangoeuensis (Li, 1978)
Dionysopithecus orientalis (Suteethorn, 1990)
Genus Platodontopithecus (Li, 1978)
Platodontopithecus jianghuaiensis (Gu and Lin, 1983)
Subfamily Pliopithecinae (Zapfe, 1960)
Pliopithecus (Gervais, 1849)
Pliopithecus antiquus (Blainville, 1839)
Pliopithecus piveteaui (Hürzeler, 1954)[a]
Pliopithecus platydon (Biederman, 1863)
Pliopithecus zhanxiangi (Harrison, Delson, and Guan, 1991)
Pliopithecus bii (Yu, Jin, Jie 2003)
Pliopithecus canmatensis (Alba, Moyá-Solá, Robles, Galindo, 2012)
Epipliopithecus (Zapfe and Hürzeler, 1957)
Epipliopithecus vindobonensis (Zapfe and Hürzeler, 1957)
Crouzeliinae (Ginsburg, 1975)
Tribe Crouzeliini (Ginsburg, 1975)
Genus Plesiopliopithecus (Zapfe, 1961)
Pleisopliopithecus auscitanensis (Ginsburg, 1975)[b]
Pleisopliopithecus rhondanica (Ginsburg and Mein, 1980)[b]
Pleisopliopithecus lockeri (Zapfe, 1961)
Pleisopliopithecus priensis (Welcomme, Aguilar, and Ginsburg, 1991)[c]
Tribe Anapithecini (Kretzoi, 1975)
Anapithecus (Kretzoi, 1975)
Anapithecus hernyaki (Kretzoi, 1975)
Genus Laccopithecus (Wu & Pan, 1984)
Laccopithecs robustus (Wu and Pan, 1984)
Genus Barberapithecus (Alba and Moyá-Solá, 2012)
Barberapithecus huerzeleri (Alba and Moyá-Solá, 2012)
Genus Egarapithecus (Moyá-Solá, Köhler, and Alba, 2001)
Egarapithecus narcisoi (Moyá-Solá, Köhler, and Alba, 2001)
incertae sedis (undefined)
Genus Paidopithex (Pohlig, 1895)
Begun (2012 - A Companion To Paleoanthroplogy) divides Pliopithecoidea
into two - Family
Dionysopithecidae and Family Pliopithecidae, with
Pliopithecidae sub-divided into Subfamilies Pliopithecinae and
^ P. piveteaui is considered a junior synonym of P. antiquus
(Bergounioux and Crouzel, 1965; Harrison, 1991; Andrews et al., 1996),
and as a distinct species by Begun (2002).
^ a b Ginsburg (1975) and Moyá-Solá et al. (2001) recognize P.
auscitanensis and P. rhodancia as a distinct genus, Crouzelia.
^ P. priensis is placed into
Pliopithecus by Andrews et al. (1996) and
Moyá-Solá et al. (2001), but it has since been moved into
Pleisopliopithecus by Begun (2002) and Harrison (2013)
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Begun, David (2002). The
Pliopithecoidea (PDF). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0 521
^ a b c d e Harrison, Terry (2013).
^ a b c Zapfe, Helmuth (1958). "The skeleton of Pliopithecus
(Epipliopithecus) vindobonesis Zapfe and Hürzeler". American Journal
of Physical Anthropology. 16 (4): 441–457.
^ Ginsburg, Leonard (1975). "Les Pliopithe`ques des faluns
helve´tiens de la Touraine et de l'Anjou". Colloques Internationaux
du Centre national de la recherche scientifique (218):
^ Ginsburg, Leonard; Mein, Pierre (1980). "Crouzelia rhondanica,
nouvelle espe`ce de primate catarrhinien, et essai sur la position
systématique de Pliopithecidae". Bulletin du Muséum national
d'histoire naturelle, Paris (4): 57–85.
^ Li, Chuan-kuei (1978). "A
Miocene gibbon-like primate from Shihhung,
Kiangsu Province". Vertebrata PalAsiatica (16): 187–192.
^ Alba, David; Moyà-Solà, Salvador (2012). "A New Pliopithecid Genus
(Primates: Pliopithecoidea) From Castel de Barberà (Vallès-Penedès
Basin, Catalonia, Spain)". American Journal of Physical Anthropology.
147: 88–112. doi:10.1002/ajpa.21630.
^ a b Köhler, M; Alba, DM; Solà, SM; MacLatchy, L (December 2002).
"Taxonomic affinities of the
Eppelsheim femur". American Journal of
Physical Anthropology. 119: 297–304. doi:10.1002/ajpa.10140.
^ a b Harrison, Terry (2012). "Chapter 20
Catarrhine Origins". In
Begun, David. A Companion To Paleoanthropology. Wiley Blackwell.
ISBN 978-1-118-33237-5. Archived from the original on 2013.
^ Sankhyan, Anek; Kelley, Jay; Harrison, Terry (April 2017). "A highly
derived pliopithecoid from the Late
Miocene of Haritalyangar, India".
Journal of Human Evolution. 105: 1–12.
^ Harrison, Terry; Gu, Yumin (1999). "Taxonomy and phylogenetic
relationships of early
Miocene catarrhines from Sihong, China".
Journal of Human Evolution. 37: 225–277.
^ Alba, David; Moyà-Solà, Salvador; Malgosa, Assumpció;
Casanovas-Vilar, Isaac; Robles, Josep; Almécija, Sergio; Galindo,
Jordi; Rotgers, Cheyenn; Bertó Mengual, Juan Vicente (2010). "A new
Pliopithecus Gervais, 1849 (Primates: Pliopithecoidea) from
Miocene (MN8) of Abocador de Can Mata (els Hostalets de
Pierola, Catalonia, Spain)". American Journal of Physical
Anthropology. 141: 52–75. doi:10.1002/ajpa.21114.
^ a b Harrison, Terry (1987). "The phylogenetic relationships of the
early catarrhine primates: a review of the current evidence". Journal
of Human Evolution. 16: 41–80.
^ a b c d Andrews, Peter; Harrison, Terry; Delson, Eric; Bernor,
Raymond; Martin, L (1996). Distribution and Biochronology of European
and Southwest Asian
Miocene Catarrhines. Columbia University Press.
^ Alba, David; Moyà-Solà, Salvador; Robles, Josep M.; Galindo, Jordi
(2012). "Brief Communication: The Oldest Pliopithecid Record in the
Iberia Peninsula Based on New Material From the Vallès-Penedès
Basin". American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 147: 135–140.
doi:10.1002/ajpa.21631. PMID 22170401.