Temporal range: Miocene16 Ma
Heliopithecus is an extinct genus of primates that existed 16 million years ago during the Miocene epoch. Fragmentary fossil remains of a jaw and isolated teeth were found in Saudi Arabia which have been described as belonging to H. leakeyi. Some authors regard Heliopithecus as synonymous with Afropithecus.
Discovery and classification
Fragmentary fossil remains of a left maxilla and four isolated teeth were unearthed in Ad Dabtiyah, Saudi Arabia in 1978 and were named by Andrews and Martin in 1987. It was assigned to Afropithecini by Andrews in 1992 and later reassigned to Proconsulidae in 2010 by Zalmout et al.
Description of fossil remains
The maxilla is characterized with a shallow and narrow palate with parallel toothrows. The upper premolars are larger as compared to molars, with the upper molars being slightly wider than longer. The teeth of the upper cheek are low-crowned with thick enamel.
Differences from sister genera
From studies conducted on the dental characteristics of Heliopithecus, it has been suggested by Andrews and Martin, that Heliopithecus may be synonymous with Afropithecus and Morotopithecus - a view supported by Richard Leakey. Similarity between these genera include large upper premolars, and narrow upper molars "with reduced development of lingual cingulum and more bunodont cusps." However, the general view held is that Heliopithecus is separate from and more primitive than Afropithecus and Morotopithecus. This view is supported by the fact that Heliopithecus has broader cheek teeth and a better developed lingual cingulum as compared to Afropithecus. Heliopithecus differs from Morotopithecus in that it has a narrower palate and upper cheek teeth and a better developed lingual cingulum.
As compared to other Early Miocene Proconsuloids, Heliopithecus has more powerful teeth and jaws, these features may have played a key role in the spread of Hominoids from Africa into Eurasia, 17 million years ago - a time when lower sea levels resulted in the Arabian Peninsula being directly connected to East Africa.
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