Early Pliocene Cercopithecidae from Woranso-Mille (Central Afar, Ethiopia) and the origins of the Theropithecus oswaldi lineage

Stephen R Frost, Nina G Jablonski, Yohannes Haile-Selassie
Journal of Human Evolution 2014, 76: 39-53
A large series of fossil cercopithecids has been recovered from the hominid-bearing Woranso-Mille site, Afar State, northeastern Ethiopia. Here we report the taxonomy of those specimens from the Am-Ado, Aralee Issie, Korsi Dora, Makah Mera, and Mesgid Dora collection areas, which are all roughly contemporaneous and dated to between 3.6 and 3.8 million years ago. This series includes a minimum of two cercopithecine and three colobine species. Theropithecus oswaldi cf. darti is by far the most common species in the assemblage, making up over 90% of identifiable cercopithecid specimens. There is also at least one other species of papionin, which cannot be currently assigned to a genus. The colobines are here allocated to Cercopithecoides cf. meaveae and two other species, one small and one large, that cannot be currently assigned to genus. The T. oswaldi cf. darti series from Woranso-Mille is both the earliest and largest identified to date. It documents the earliest occurrence of the T. oswaldi lineage and strongly suggests that parallel evolution of molar morphology has occurred within the genus between T. oswaldi and Theropithecus brumpti. Given the dominance of monkeys at Woranso-Mille, and the preponderance of Theropithecus among cercopithecids, T. o. cf. darti is likely to be the most common mammal present at the 3.6-3.8 million-years-old localities of the Woranso-Mille study area. Some explanations for this unusual occurrence are explored, and implications for the paleoenvironment at Woranso-Mille are also discussed.

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