Propliopithecus (Aegyptopithecus) Profile

Propliopithecus illustration

Dan Wright/Getty Images 

Name: Propliopithecus (Greek for "before Pliopithecus"); pronounced PRO-ply-oh-pith-ECK-us; also known as Aegyptopithecus

Habitat: Woodlands of northern Africa

Historical Epoch: Middle Oligocene (30-25 million years ago)

Size and Weight: About two feet long and 10 pounds

Diet: Probably omnivorous

Distinguishing Characteristics: Small size; sexual dimorphism; flat face with forward-facing eyes

About Propliopithecus (Aegyptopithecus)

As you can tell from its nearly unpronounceable name, Propliopithecus was named in reference to the much later Pliopithecus; this middle Oligocene primate may also have been the same animal as Aegyptopithecus, which provisionally continues to occupy its own genus. The importance of Propliopithecus is that it occupied a place on the primate evolutionary tree very near to the ancient split between "old world" (i.e., African and Eurasian) apes and monkeys, and may well have been the earliest true ape. Still, Propliopithecus was no chest-pounding behemoth; this ten-pound primate looked like a small gibbon, ran on all fours like a macaque, and possessed a relatively flat face with forward-facing eyes, an adumbration of its human-like hominid descendants that evolved millions of years later.

How smart was Propliopithecus? One shouldn't have too ambitious hopes for a primate that lived 25 million years ago, and in fact, an initial brain-size estimate of 30 square centimeters has since been reduced to 22 square centimeters, on the basis of more complete fossil evidence. In the course of analyzing skull samples, the same research team that produced the latter estimate also concluded that Propliopithecus was sexually dimorphic (males were about one and one-half times as big as females), and we can infer that this primate scrambled between the branches of trees—that is, it had not yet learned to walk on solid ground.

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Strauss, Bob. "Propliopithecus (Aegyptopithecus) Profile." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Strauss, Bob. (2020, August 28). Propliopithecus (Aegyptopithecus) Profile. Retrieved from Strauss, Bob. "Propliopithecus (Aegyptopithecus) Profile." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 4, 2023).