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New Oligocene primate from Saudi Arabia and the divergence of apes and Old World monkeys


It is widely understood that Hominoidea (apes and humans) and Cercopithecoidea (Old World monkeys) have a common ancestry as Catarrhini deeply rooted in Afro-Arabia1,2,3,4. The oldest stem Catarrhini in the fossil record are Propliopithecoidea, known from the late Eocene to early Oligocene epochs (roughly 35–30 Myr ago) of Egypt, Oman and possibly Angola5,6,7,8,9,10. Genome-based estimates for divergence of hominoids and cercopithecoids range into the early Oligocene11; however, the mid-to-late Oligocene interval from 30 to 23 Myr ago has yielded little fossil evidence documenting the morphology of the last common ancestor of hominoids and cercopithecoids, the timing of their divergence, or the relationship of early stem and crown catarrhines. Here we describe the partial cranium of a new medium-sized (about 15–20 kg) fossil catarrhine, Saadanius hijazensis, dated to 29–28 Myr ago. Comparative anatomy and cladistic analysis shows that Saadanius is an advanced stem catarrhine close to the base of the hominoid–cercopithecoid clade. Saadanius is important for assessing competing hypotheses about the ancestral morphotype for crown catarrhines1,12,13,14, early catarrhine phylogeny12,15 and the age of hominoid–cercopithecoid divergence11. Saadanius has a tubular ectotympanic but lacks synapomorphies of either group of crown Catarrhini, and we infer that the hominoid–cercopithecoid split happened later, between 29–28 and 24 Myr ago.

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Figure 1: Geological, geographical and stratigraphic contexts for SGS-UM 2009-002.
Figure 2: Photographic images of the partial cranium SGS-UM 2009-002, type specimen of Saadanius hijazensis gen. et sp. nov.
Figure 3: Micro-CT scan images of the partial cranium SGS-UM 2009-002, type specimen of Saadanius hijazensis gen. et sp. nov.
Figure 4: Proposed relationship of Saadanius to other catarrhine primates.


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We thank Saudi Geological Survey (Jeddah) officials Z. A. Nawab, A. M. Al Attas and A. F. Al Khattabi for the invitation to undertake fieldwork in western Saudi Arabia; E. Mbua (National Museums of Kenya) for permission to study of catarrhine fossils in her care; A. Walker for access to micro-CT facilities at Pennsylvania State University; T. Ryan for scanning; A. Rountrey, D. Erickson and B. Miljour for assistance with interpretation of micro-CT scans, photography, and figures; T. Harrison for phylogenetic discussion and advice; E. Seiffert for CT images and photographs of propliopithecoid fossils; B. Benefit for information on the ectotympanic of Victoriapithecus; D. T. Rasmussen and M. Gutiérrez for information about fossil mammals from Lothidok, Kenya; M. Halawani, A. Memesh, S. Dini, C. Spencer and G. W. Hughes for information about the geology and lithostratigraphy of the research area; and E. Seiffert for improving the manuscript. The research was supported by a US National Science Foundation grant (EAR-0517773) to P.D.G.

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I.S.Z., Y.A.A., M.A.A., A.H.N., A.M.A., S.A.A., A.O.N., A.H.M. and J.A.W. undertook the palaeontological survey, fossil collection and field geology. W.J.S. prepared the fossils. G.F.G., L.M.M. and W.J.S. performed the comparative study and phylogenetic analysis of catarrhine primates. L.M.M. and P.D.G. coordinated the micro-CT scanning. G.F.G. and W.J.S. made comparative studies of the non-primate mammalian fauna and identified the taxa. All authors contributed to the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Iyad S. Zalmout, William J. Sanders or Philip D. Gingerich.

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Zalmout, I., Sanders, W., MacLatchy, L. et al. New Oligocene primate from Saudi Arabia and the divergence of apes and Old World monkeys. Nature 466, 360–364 (2010).

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