Plio-Pleistocene cercopithecids from Kanam East, western Kenya

Terry Harrison, Eugene E. Harris

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    This paper describes cercopithecid craniodental and postcranial fossils recovered by L. S. B. Leakey at Kanam East, Kenya during the early 1930s. These fossil monkeys have been generally assumed to have been derived from early Pliocene horizons, but their exact geographical and stratigraphical provenience is unknown. Although the question of the evolutionary significance of these specimens must await the recovery of more securely dated material from Kanam East, some general conclusions can be drawn concerning their taxonomic affinities and paleobiology. Based on comparative studies of the craniodental material, at least three extant genera are represented - Colobus, Lophocebus, and Cercopithecus. The postcranial fossils include a number of hindlimb specimens, as well as the manubrium of a sternum and a caudal vertebra. Identification of the postcranial remains to particular genera is not possible, but they are similar in morphology to modern arboreal and semiterrestrial cercopithecid monkeys of small to medium size. It is evident that Kanam East had a diverse cercopithecid community, similar to those found today in forested and woodland habitats, and this may be of some significance in reconstructing the paleoecology of the site. Because the fossil record of most extant cercopithecid genera is rather sparse at Plio-Pleistocene sites in Africa, Kanam East represents one of only a few sites that has yielded material that can be assigned to Colobus, Lophocebus, or Cercopithecus. The fossil monkeys from the site, therefore, provide additional evidence to help reconstruct the paleobiology, as well as the patterns of species diversity and community structure that characterized the cercopithecid radiation during the Plio-Pleistocene.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)539-561
    Number of pages23
    JournalJournal of Human Evolution
    Issue number6
    StatePublished - Jun 1996


    • Cercopithecids
    • Cercopithecus
    • Colobus
    • Kanam East
    • Kenya
    • Lophocebus
    • Plio-Pleistocene

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
    • Anthropology


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