A Gorilla-Sized Ape from the Miocene of India

Science  02 Jul 1971:
Vol. 173, Issue 3991, pp. 23-27
DOI: 10.1126/science.173.3991.23


A large ape existed in India at the close of the Miocene or the beginning of the Pliocene epochs; this ape shows a complex of anatomical structures at the opposite pole from its contemporary, Ramapithecus. Although found in the same beds, the two seldom occur at the same exact sites and levels. Considering the thickness of these beds, recovery close to Haritalyangar does not, of itself, prove sympatry of these two different kinds of Hominoidea. However, both are definitely present at one recently located site representing, most probably, a death assemblage. Observations by the authors on scores of chimpanzees suggest that, at least in this ape, wear gradients on molar crowns exist, but that the wear differential between adjacent molars is almost never raised to the degree seen in most Ramapithecus. Dryopithecus itdicus and D. fontani (from southern France), in contrast, show almost no wear gradient at all; that is, whether an individual is dentally young or old, wear on all three molars and the two premolars has proceeded to about the same degree. It is of considerable importance in understanding hominid phylogeny to be able to stress that an ape known to be contemporary with Ramapithecus shows far less differential wear than does the hominid. This, in turn, strongly suggests that the molar eruption sequence of D. indicus was rapid, while that of the hominid was delayed. The implication is that, as far back as the late Miocene, the hominid maturation period was lengthened, relative to that of apes. A further fact which emerges is that the rate of interstitial wear was faster in the Haritalyangar ape than in the hominid contemporary with it. This, together with its large size, flatness of unworn tooth crowns, and other associated characters, suggests that D. indicus is in, or close to, the ancestry of Gigantopithecus. From this emerges yet another object lesson, emphasizing the caution one has to observe in the manner and method by which ancient and modern apes are compared and contrasted. None of the species of Hominoidea dealt with here, whether pongid (D. indicus and Pan troglodytes) or hominid (R. punjabicus), accumulates either interstitial or crown wear at the same rate or in the same manner.