JOURNAL ARTICLE

Chronology of primate discoveries in Myanmar: influences on the anthropoid origins debate

Russell L Ciochon, Gregg F Gunnell
American Journal of Physical Anthropology 2002, : 2-35
12653307
The history of primate paleontology in Asia is long and complex, beginning with the first discoveries of fossil primates on the Indian subcontinent in the early 1830's. The first Eocene mammals from Asia were collected in Myanmar and described in 1916, while the first primates, Pondaungia and Amphipithecus, were described in 1927 and 1937, respectively, both from the Pondaung Formation in Myanmar. For the next 60 years, these two Pondaung taxa remained as the only known Eocene primates from Myanmar and one of the few records of Eocene primates from all of Asia. Taxonomically, Pondaungia and Amphipithecus were linked with a number of different groups, including archaic, hoofed ungulates (condylarths), adapiform primates, omomyid primates, and anthropoids. While no consensus existed, Pondaungia and Amphipithecus were most commonly compared with anthropoids. Beginning in the late 1990s, new primates were discovered in Myanmar, including smaller-bodied forms such as Bahinia and Myanmarpithecus. Also, new and better specimens of the larger-bodied Pondaungia and Amphipithecus began to appear, including the first cranial and postcranial fragments. Evaluations based on these new specimens, especially the postcrania, indicate that the two larger-bodied Myanmar taxa are adapiform primates that show their closest affinities to North American notharctines. The smaller-bodied taxa remain enigmatic, but may share their closest affinities with North American and Asian omomyid primates and Asian Tarsius. None of the known Asian primate taxa appear closely related to African anthropoids, which suggests that true anthropoids did not reach Asia until the latest Oligocene or earliest Miocene. These facts make an Asian origin for Anthropoidea unlikely. Additional and earlier evidence from both Asia and Africa is required before the ultimate origin of anthropoids can be determined. It appears possible that true anthropoids were an ancient radiation that may have been part of a Gondwanan (southern hemisphere) community that is, at present, poorly sampled and little understood.

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