Human Evolution

, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp 1–17

The chronology of the cercopithecoidea of East Africa

  • M. Pickford

DOI: 10.1007/BF02436527

Cite this article as:
Pickford, M. Hum. Evol. (1987) 2: 1. doi:10.1007/BF02436527


The East African fossil record of cercopithecoids spans nearly 20 m. y. Throughout the Miocene Epoch, the diversity of monkeys was low, although at some localities the numbers of individuals is rather high. During the Plio-Pleistocene in contrast, there was a major radiation, or radiations of monkeys, involving both colobines and corcopithecines. A late Pleistocene to Recent radiation within the genusCercopithecus still seems to be under way. The history of diversity in the monkeys is in many ways a chronological inverted mirror image of the diversity history of the hominoid primates, which were highly diverse during the lower miocene, but became less diverse through time. The east african cercopithecoid record is the only one which spans much of the Neogene, and it is consequently the main one by which detailed cercopithecoid cladogenetic and anagenetic events can be dated. In this respect, it provides constraints for interpreting branching schemes derived from neontological evidence. Most of the neontological estimates for monkey origins appear to be too old, the fossil evidence suggesting that the origin of the superfamily Cercopithecoidea and the origins of the Colobinae, Papionini and Cercopithecini are younger than usually suggested on neontological evidence. The superfamily is probably no older than 25 m. y., the colobines diverged as a distinctive group about 12–14 m. y. ago, the Papionines about 8–10 m. y. ago and the Cercopithecines perhaps as late as 7 m. y. However, since the Miocene fossil record is rather spotty, these fossil-based estimates may be revised downwards with new discoveries. They are unlikely to be revised upwards. The sequence and timing of cladogenetic events deduced from the east african evidence indicates that all the modern subfamilies arose in Africa, and subsequently spread to Europe and Asia. The sequence of fossil events is in close agreement with neontological evidence such as karyology and molecular anthropology. It is only in the calibration of the sequence that there is disagreement between the fossil and neontological evidence. Strangely, the polarity of the differences in opinion are opposite to those concerning the hominoids, in which the neontological evidence has suggested much younger divergence dates than did the fossil evidence as perceived in the 1960's and 1970's.

Key words

CercopithecidaeChronologyphylogeny East Africa

Copyright information

© Editrice II Sedicesimo 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. Pickford
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Palaeontology Dept.Johannes-Gutenberg-Universitat-MainzMainzFederal Republic of Germany
  2. 2.Institut de PaléontologieParisFrance