Sivapithecus (Greek for "Siva ape"); pronounced SEE-vah-pith-ECK-us
Woodlands of central Asia
Middle-Late Miocene (12-7 million years ago)
Size and Weight:
About 5 feet long and 50-75 pounds
Chimpanzee-like feet; flexible wrists; large canines
About Sivapithecus (Ramapithecus):
Sivapithecus occupies an important place on the prehistoric primate evolutionary flow chart: this slender, five-foot-long ape marked the time when early primates descended from the shelter of trees and started to explore the wide-open grasslands.
This late Miocene ape had chimpanzee-like feet with flexible ankles, but otherwise it resembled an orangutan, to which it may have been directly ancestral (though it's possible that the orangutan-like features of Sivapithecus arose via the process of convergent evolution). Most important, from the perspective of paleontologists, were the shape of Sivapithecus' teeth: this primate's large canines and heavily enameled molars point to a diet of tough tubers and stems (such as would be found on the open plains) rather than tender fruits (such as would be found in trees).
Sivapithecus is intimately associated with Ramapithecus, a now-downgraded genus of central Asian primate that was once considered to be directly ancestral to modern humans. It turns out that the analysis of the original Ramapithecus fossils was flawed, and that this primate was less human-like than had initially been thought--and disturbingly similar to the earlier-named Sivapithecus. Today, most paleontologists believe that the fossils attributed to Ramapithecus actually represent the slightly smaller females of genus Sivapithecus--and that neither genus was a direct Homo sapiens ancestor.