(D) Special Topics
The Distribution of Apes over Time
There appears as yet to be no evidence of the existence of apes earlier than during the Miocene period. This absence of evidence must by no means be taken as a conclusive proof of their non-existence, since, as Dr. Falconer has pointed out, we ought not to expect to find ape fossils often. We ought not to expect this, because the agility and arboreal life of these animals enable them to escape local inundations, and other causes of destruction and speedy burial, to which more sluggish and terrestrial animals are exposed. When they fall dead they are almost immediately devoured by carnivorous animals and feeders on carrion, and it is owing to this that their remains are so rarely found in India, on which account the Hindoos believe that they bury their dead.
Two teeth found in Suffolk were at first described by Professor Owen as those of apes, under the title Macacus cocaenus. This opinion, however, he has since withdrawn.
A fragment of a right maxilla, from Soleure in Switzerland, was described by Rutimeyer in 1862, under the name Caenopithecus lemuroides. But the recent discovery of fossil lemurs in France renders the ape character of this fragment (which was always doubtful) still more uncertain.
When we enter upon Miocene deposits we find plentiful and unquestionable remains of apes now extinct. In India, in the Sewalik hills, the astragalus of a Semnopithecus (resembling S. entellus) has been found. Also jaws and teeth of other forms allied to Semnopithecus and Macacus have been discovered, one with an upper jaw nearly as large as that of the existing orang. These fossils, however, exhibit no remarkable difference in form from the bones of existing apes.
In Europe a very remarkable ape fossil, named Dryopithecus fontani (Lartet), has been found at Saint Gaudens in France. A lower jaw and humerus were there obtained, but isolated teeth have also been met with in the Suabian Alps. This creature was an ape belonging to the highest sub-family, Simiinae, and was allied to Hylobates, but of greater bulk than any existing gibbon.
Two other species of ape have been found allied to Hylobates, but of smaller size than Dryopithecus, and showing some probable affinity to Semnopithecus. These are Pliopithecus antiquus (Lartet), and P. platyodon (Biedermann). Of the former, two imperfect lower jaws were found in fresh-water deposits at Sansan, near Auch, in France; while of the latter, an upper jaw has been found in Zurich at Elgg, in the upper fresh-water Molasse there. Another ape (probably of the Simiinae), of which a lower jaw has been found in the lignite bed at Monte Bamboli in Tuscany, has been named by G. M. Gervais, Oreopithecus bambolii.
M. Gaudry has also found a rich deposit of ape relics at Pikermi in Greece. He has sent thence to Paris parts of as many as twenty-five individuals, while other remains are preserved in Munich, and so less than five crania at Milan. These remains have been by Wagner in a new genus, Mesopithecus. They are very interesting, as showing a somewhat intermediate structure compared with living apes. The cranium and dentition bear affinity to Semnopithecus, but the limbs are rather those of Macacus.
Certain fragments found at Eppelsheim (in strata of the same geological age as the Pikermi deposits) have also been attributed to the former genus; while five mandibula, found at Steinheim in Würtemberg, have received the name, from Fraas, of Semnopithecus grandaevus.
Amongst the rich palaeontological treasures which have recently been found in the North American Miocene deposits are certain teeth and fragments, which, it has been suggested, may be those of apes. At present, however, their nature is quite problematical, though the presence of apes at that period in America would be a fact of extreme interest, if sufficient remains could be found to determine whether such apes were Simiadae or Cebidae, or forms intermediate between the two.
The Pliocene deposits have not yet yielded much in the way of ape remains. Some teeth from Montpellier (found in fresh-water marl) have been named Semnopithecus Monspessulanus by M. Gervais, while part of a lowerjaw from the same locality has been called Macacus priscus. Other fragments of jaws, and some teeth of Macaci have been found in the Val d'Arno, and are preserved at Pisa, Turin, and Florence. A single tooth from Frays, Essex, has been described by Professor Owen as Macacus pliocaenus.
In America, besides the Miocene fragments before referred to, numerous bones of Mycetes and other genera have been found in the caves of Brazil. These, however, appear to be, geological speaking, quite recent, and they closely resemble the bones of apes now living in that region.
For further details as to fossil apes, an article may be referred to (a translation from the Italian) by Major Forsyth, in the Annals and Magazine of Natural History, for the month of September 1872.
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