Astragalar morphology of late Eocene anthropoids from the Fayum Depression (Egypt) and the origin of catarrhine primates

E R Seiffert, E L Simons
Journal of Human Evolution 2001, 41 (6): 577-606
The phylogenetic relationships of the late Eocene anthropoids Catopithecus browni and Proteopithecus sylviae are currently a matter of debate, with opinion divided as to whether these taxa are stem or crown anthropoids. The phylogenetic position of Catopithecus is of particular interest, for, unlike the highly generalized genus Proteopithecus, this taxon shares apomorphic dental and postcranial features with more derived undoubted catarrhines that appear in the same region 1-2 Ma later. If these apomorphies are homologous and Catopithecus is a stem catarrhine, the unique combination of plesiomorphic and apomorphic features preserved in this anthropoid would have important implications for our understanding of the crown anthropoid morphotype and the pattern of morphological character transformations that occurred during the early phases of stem catarrhine evolution.Well-preserved astragali referrable to Proteopithecus, Catopithecus, and the undoubted early Oligocene stem catarrhine Aegyptopithecus have provided additional morphological evidence that allows us to further evaluate competing hypotheses of interrelationships among Eocene-Oligocene Afro-Arabian anthropoids. Qualitative observations and multivariate morphometric analyses reveal that the astragalar morphology of Proteopithecus is very similar to that of early Oligocene parapithecids and living and extinct small-bodied platyrrhines, and strengthens the hypothesis that the morphological pattern shared by these taxa is primitive within crown Anthropoidea. In contrast, Catopithecus departs markedly from the predicted crown anthropoid astragalar morphotype and shares a number of apomorphic features (e.g., deep cotylar fossa, laterally projecting fibular facet, trochlear asymmetry, mediolaterally wide astragalar head) with Aegyptopithecus and Miocene-Recent catarrhines. The evidence from the astragalus complements other independent data from the dentition, humerus and femur of Catopithecus that support this taxon's stem catarrhine status, and we continue to maintain that oligopithecines are stem catarrhines that constitute the sister group of a clade containing propliopithecines and Miocene-Recent catarrhines.

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