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A Middle Miocene hominoid from Thailand and orangutan origins

Abstract

The origin of orangutans has long been debated. Sivapithecus is considered to be the closest ancestor of orangutans because of its facial–palatal similarities1, but its dental characteristics2 and postcranial skeleton2,3 do not confirm this phylogenetic position. Here we report a new Middle Miocene hominoid, cf. Lufengpithecus chiangmuanensis n. sp. from northern Thailand. Its dental morphology relates it to the Pongo clade, which includes Lufengpithecus4,5, Sivapithecus2, Gigantopithecus6, Ankarapithecus7 and possibly Griphopithecus8. Our new species displays striking dental resemblances with living orangutans and appears as a more likely candidate to represent an ancestor of this ape. In addition, it originates from the geographic area of Pleistocene orangutans. But surprisingly, the associated flora shows strong African affinities, demonstrating the existence of a temporary floral and faunal dispersal corridor between southeast Asia and Africa during the Middle Miocene, which may have played a critical role in hominoid dispersion.

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Figure 1: Stratigraphic section of Ban Sa coalmine bearing cf. Lufengpithecus chiangmuanensis.
Figure 2: Simplified pollen diagram of four samples collected from the middle lignite seam in Ban Sa section.
Figure 3: cf. Lufengpithecus chiangmuanensis n. sp.
Figure 4: Virtual vertical sections through the mesial cusps of M2 of presumed male cf. Lufengpithecus chiangmuanensis (left) and extant Pongo pygmeus (right) showing comparable relative enamel thickness and dentine penetrance.

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Acknowledgements

We thank P. Andrews, L. de Bonis, J. Kappelman, J. Kelley and D. Pilbeam for comments, help, discussion and providing comparative materials; J. H. Schwartz and J. Kappelman for improving our manuscript; E. Boller, J. Baruchel and the ID 19 beamline staff of the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (Grenoble, France) for their help in obtaining microtomographic images; A. Sritulakarn and N. Wongchai for providing facilities in Chiang Muan coal mine; B. Marandat for preparing fossils and making casts; H. Tong for translating Chinese documents; J. Barry, P. Tassy, G. Métais and S. Ducrocq for identifying associated large mammals. This work was supported by the Wenner-Gren and the Fyssen Foundations, the Department of Mineral Resources (Bangkok) and TRF-CNRS Project.

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Chaimanee, Y., Jolly, D., Benammi, M. et al. A Middle Miocene hominoid from Thailand and orangutan origins. Nature 422, 61–65 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature01449

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