Anthropoid Origins: Postcranial Evidence from the Eocene of Asia

  • Daniel L. Gebo
  • Marian Dagosto
Part of the Developments in Primatology: Progress and Prospects book series (DIPR)


Paleontologists are interested in the “morphological origin” of anthropoids since virtually all other types of biological information are lost to us. We seek to document the series of anatomical transformations that begin with stem prosimians and end with extant higher primates. Thus, we peer into the fossil record and hope to identify transitional forms that have both prosimian and anthropoid characteristics. Primatologists have identified many postcranial features that distinguish prosimian from anthropoid primates (Table 1; e.g., Ciochon and Chiarelli, 1980; Dagosto, 1990; Fleagle, 1999; Fleagle and Kay, 1994; Kay et al., 1997; LeGros Clark, 1959). If only extant primates are considered, there is a large morphological gap between prosimian and anthropoid morphologies (Table 1). This situation begs two questions: (1) Where are the transitional forms that document the origin of anthropoids? (2) What types of primates will be considered “early,” “stem” or “basal” anthropoids? The first question is rather difficult since we need to actually find the transitional specimens while the second is simply a matter of definition.
Table 1.

Postcranial characteristics that distinguish living prosimians from living anthropoids

Serial no.

Prosimian characteristics

Anthropoid characteristics


Limb proportions = longer hindlimbs (not lorisines)

Limbs more equal in proportional lengths


Large zona conoidea between the capitulum and the trochlea of the humerus

Small to absent


Prominent brachial flange

Minimal or absent


High knees with a high lateral patellar rim (not lorisines)

Low knee height


Third trochanter present (small in lorisines)

Small to absent third trochanter


Large lesser trochanter

Small lesser trochanter


Powerful grasping big toes (larger peroneal tubercle of the first metatarsal)

Grasping big toes (reduced peroneal tubercle)


Full calcaneocuboid facet

Reduced calcaneocuboid facet


Full talotibial facet

Reduced talotibial facet absent


Posterior trochlear shelf (not Tarsius and lorisines)



Relatively longer toes

Relatively shorter toes


Middle Eocene Late Eocene Transitional Form Crown Group Anthropoid Primate 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel L. Gebo
    • 1
  • Marian Dagosto
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyNorthern Illinois UniversityDeKalbUSA
  2. 2.Department of Cell and Molecular BiologyNorthwestern University Medical SchoolChicagoUSA

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