Proconsul (genus)

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Proconsul skull side left (University of Zurich) .JPG


Temporal occurrence
21 to 14 million years
Subordination : Dry- nosed primates (Haplorrhini)
Partial order : Monkey (anthropoidea)
without rank: Old World Monkey (Catarrhini)
Superfamily : Human (Hominoidea)
Family : Proconsulidae
Genre : Proconsul
Scientific name
Hopwood , 1933

Proconsul is an extinct genus of primates that was foundin Africa during the Early and Middle Miocene . Fossils that are assigned to this genus were dated between 21 and 14 million years ago. The finds come mainly from Kenya - mostly from the island of Rusinga inLake Victoria - and from neighboring Uganda . The genus is one of the earliest known representatives of the human species (Hominoidea).

The delimitation of the genus Proconsul from Ugandapithecus is controversial.


The name of the genus Proconsul ("before the Consul") was chosen in 1933 by Arthur Tindell Hopwood (1897-1969), probably in allusion to the chimpanzee Consul , who lived in the London Zoo in the 1930s . The type species of the genus is Proconsul africanus .


The members of the genus Proconsul were tailless quadrupeds without a bulge above the eye (torus supraorbitalis) with a relatively short snout and - depending on gender - differently developed canine teeth. For the largest known specimens, a brain volume of around 150 to 180 cubic centimeters was calculated, which roughly corresponds to that of a Siamang living today . Arms and legs were quite long and about the same length, from which it can be concluded that these animals - comparable to today's gibbons - were inhabitants of rainforests and shimmy through the trees, but could also stay on the ground for a while: "His big toe and the way the muscles must have attached suggest that he was able to grip with his feet. But shoulders, elbows and arms show that he also moved on all fours. "

Alan Walker derives from the nature of the lumen of their semicircular canals preserved in some fossils that they usually move at a leisurely pace, comparable to today's howler monkeys . From the texture of their teeth it was concluded that these animals mainly fed on fruit.


Based on the anatomical features and the reconstructed climatic data, it had always been argued that Proconsul was a tree dweller and was found in tropical rainforests, but could also get along in open landscapes - that is, on the ground. This interpretation was finally confirmed by excavations on the Kenyan island of Rusinga. Between 2011 and 2013, four teeth of a young Proconsul heseloni and the remains of 29 tree stumps with trunk diameters ranging from 18 to 160 cm were found there in an approximately 18 million year old horizon . Based on the distances between the tree stumps, the different trunk diameters, fossil leaves from the same find layer and other, above all geological clues, it was concluded that it was a dense forest with trees of different heights. A paleoclimatological synopsis of the findings led the researchers to estimate that the temperature of this fossil forest was between 22.6 and 34.5 ° C and the annual rainfall was 1394 to 2618 mm.


Partial skeleton of Proconsul nyanzae in the Muséum national d'histoire naturelle in Paris
Live reconstruction

The exact position of the Proconsul species in the human family tree is controversial. Initially, their fossils were interpreted as the ancestors of today's chimpanzees and gorillas ; hence the reference to the chimpanzee consul when giving the name. Some scientists also interpreted Proconsul as a missing link , the common ancestor of humans and these great apes. In addition, the delimitation of some finds of Dryopithecus was at times controversial. Today the genus is mostly referred to as a sister group of the great ape ancestors.

In 2002, four species were described, three of which differ significantly in height:

  • Proconsul africanus : Its weight is estimated at around 20 kg. This was the first species of the genus named by Hopwood in 1933.
  • Proconsul major : Its weight is estimated at around 60 to 80 kg.
  • Proconsul heseloni : The delimitation of this species from Proconsul africanus ,introduced in 1993,is controversial. The weight is estimated at just under 20 kg.
  • Proconsul nyanzae : His weight was around 20 to 50 kg between that of Proconsul africanus and Proconsul major .
  • Proconsul meswae from a locality in western Kenya was named in 2009 by Terry Harrison and Peter Andrews as the fifth species of the genus.

In addition, a further species, Proconsul gitongai , was proposed in 2005 based on finds from the Tugen Hills in Kenya .

In 2015 it was proposed to separate the two species Proconsul heseloni and Proconsul nyanzae from Proconsul and to assign the newly introduced genus Ekembo as Ekembo heseloni and Ekembo nyanzae .

See also


  • Alan Walker , Pat Shipman: The Ape in the Tree. An Intellectual and Natural History of Proconsul. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2005, ISBN 0-674-01675-0 .
  • Holly Dunsworth: Proconsul heseloni feet from Rusinga Island, Kenya. Doctor of Philosophy Thesis, The Pennsylvania State University, State College (Pennsylvania), 2006. Also VDM Verlag Dr. Müller, Berlin 2008, ISBN 978-3639105438 .

Web links

Commons : Proconsul  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Robert N. Proctor: Finding Life in Old Bones. In: Science . Volume 309, 2005, p. 1188; doi : 10.1126 / science.1112101 .
  2. ^ Fiorenzo Facchini : The Origins of Humanity . Konrad Theiss Verlag, 2006, p. 60.
  3. ^ Arthur Tindell Hopwood: Miocene Primates from Kenya. J. Linn. Soc. (Zool.), Vol. 30, 1933, pp. 437-464.
  4. According to Robert N. Proctor, Finding Life in Old Bones, shortly after 1900 there was also a chimpanzee named Consul in Paris .
  5. The description of the characteristics follows the representation in Facchini, The Origins of Mankind and in Walker / Shipman, The Ape in the Tree (see literature).
  6. David R. Begun, László Kordos: Cranial evidence of the evolution of intelligence in fossil apes. In: Anne E. Russon, David R. Begun (Eds.): The Evolution of Thought. Evolutionary Origins of Great Ape Intelligence. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2004, ISBN 0-521-78335-6 , p. 261.
  7. Back then in the trees: Dynamic habitat shaped the early humans. On: from February 18, 2014
  8. Alan Walker , Pat Shipman: The Ape in the Tree… ; primates living today have relatively large lumens when moving rapidly and small when moving slowly. Proconsul had very small lumens.
  9. Lauren A. Michel et al .: Remnants of an ancient forest provide ecological context for Early Miocene fossil apes. In: Nature Communications. Volume 5, Article No. 3236, 2014, doi: 10.1038 / ncomms4236
  10. “In recent years, however, the majority of experts have come to the agreement that the representatives of Dryopithecus in Europe lived from the Middle to the Upper Miocene, that is 14 to 8 million years ago, and differed from other Miocene forms such as Proconsul or Kenyapithecus , the were native to Africa. ”Quoted from: Meike Köhler, Salvador Moy Sola: Rätsel Dryopithecus. Spectrum of Science, Issue 1/1994; Full text .
  11. Terry Harrison : Late Oligocene to middle Miocene catarrhines from Afro-Arabia. In: Walter Carl Hartwig (Ed.): The Primate Fossil Record. Cambridge University Press, 2002, pp. 311–338, full text (PDF; 2.8 MB) ( memento of October 25, 2012 in the Internet Archive ); In this overview, the following ages (in millions of years) were assigned to the holotypes : Proconsul africanus : 20 to 19; Proconsul heseloni : 18.5 to 17; Proconsul nyanzae : 18.5 to 17; Proconsul major : 20 to 19.
  12. ^ For the first description see Arthur Tindell Hopwood: Miocene Primates from Kenya. In: Journal of the Linnean Society of London, Zoology , Volume 38, No. 260, 1933, pp. 437-464, doi : 10.1111 / j.1096-3642.1933.tb00992.x
    Arthur Tindell Hopwood: Miocene Primates from British East Africa . In: The Annals and Magazine of Natural History , Series 10, No. 11, 1933, pp. 97-98
  13. a b For the first description see Wilfrid Le Gros Clark , Louis Leakey : Diagnoses of East African Miocene Hominoidea. In: Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society. Volume 105, 1949, pp. 260-264, doi : 10.1144 / GSL.JGS.1949.105.01-04.10
  14. ^ For the first description, see Alan Walker et al .: A new species of Proconsul from the early miocene of Rusinga / Mfangano Islands, Kenya. In: Journal of Human Evolution. Volume 25, No. 1, 1993, pp. 43-56, doi : 10.1006 / jhev.1993.1037
  15. Terry Harrison, Peter Andrews : The anatomy and systematic position of the early Miocene proconsulid from Meswa Bridge, Kenya. In: Journal of Human Evolution , Volume 56, No. 5, 2009, pp. 479-496, doi : 10.1016 / j.jhevol.2009.02.005
  16. Martin Pickford , Yutaka Kunimatsu: Catarrhines from the Middle Miocene (approx. 14.5 Ma) of Kipsaraman, Tugen Hills, Kenya. In: Anthropological Science , Volume 113, No. 2, 2005, pp. 189-224, doi : 10.1537 / ase.113.189
  17. Kieran P. McNultya, David R. Begun et al .: A systematic revision of Proconsul with the description of a new genus of early Miocene hominoid. In: Journal of Human Evolution. Volume 84, 2015, pp. 42-61, doi: 10.1016 / j.jhevol.2015.03.009