Named By: Robert Broom - 1936.
Classification: Chordata, Mammalia, Primates, Cercopithecidae.
Species: D. ingens (type).
Size: Males estimated to have been about 1.5 meters tall at the shoulder, females would have likely been smaller as in other baboons.
Known locations: Ethiopia - Matabaietu Formation.
Time period: Earliest confirmed appearance is the Zanclean of the Pliocene, perhaps existing later into the Pleistocene.
Fossil representation: Partial remains including skull and teeth.
is a genus of what was an exceptionally large baboon that is known to
have lived in Ethiopia during the Pliocene. Though only known from
partial remains, Dinopithecus is usually credited
with a shoulder
height of about one and a half meters tall. This height estimate is
usually reserved for males however, and usually female baboons are at
least a little bit smaller than the males. Regardless however,
there is no doubt that Dinopithecus was one of the
largest baboons to
ever exist, and substantially larger than the chacma/Cape baboon
(Papio ursinus) which is the largest type of
baboon alive today.
This is how the genus acquired its name as Dinopithecus
translates to English as ‘huge terrible ape’.
When reconstructing Dinopithecus, researchers generally look for a general comparison to how modern baboons live. Like modern baboons, Dinopithecus likely lived in groups that may have numbered many dozens of individuals. These groups were probably constantly on the move so that their numbers were always able to find adequate amounts of food to survive. Primary foods may have included fruits, nuts and roots from various plants. However a 2006 thesis by Brian Carter noted that dental wear patterns on baboons such as Dinopithecus indicating a greater amount of graminvory (grass eating).
It’s possible that Dinopithecus supplemented its diet by also hunting animals such as invertebrates, fish, lizards, birds and mammals. Large modern baboons have also been documented attacking animals as large as goats and sheep, so it’s feasible that an even larger baboon such as Dinopithecus would have been capable of attacking animals as large as modern sheep and goats.
Despite the large size and potential ferocity as an occasional predator of other animals, Dinopithecus would have also been prey for other predators of the Pliocene. Perhaps first and foremost would be the big cat Dinofelis, a predator that is known to have not only attacked and killed baboons, but also hominids. Even worse than this however was the sabre-toothed cat Machairodus that had enlarged canines that could have easily inflicted a mortal wound on a Dinopithecus. In addition to prehistoric big cats, relatives of modern crocodiles such as Crocodylus thorbjarnarsoni were known to have grown to very large sizes with strong bites and armoured skin, making them easily capable of tackling a Dinopithecus.
Perhaps the greatest threat to Dinopithecus were the emerging hominids. The discovery of the fossils of some ninety giant baboons referenced as giant Geladas (Theropithecus gelada) found together have been interpreted as being killed by the hominid Homo erectus sometime between four hundred thousand and seven hundred thousand years ago. The baboons in these concentrations were mostly juvenile or subadult, and not of mixed ages, leading to the suggestion that the Homo erectus selectively killed baboons of these ages. What is unknown at the time however is if there was a wholesale slaughter of these baboons, or if this was an accumulation over a period of time, with perhaps one baboon being killed every few weeks or months, with the remains building up over a period of years. If hominids were also selectively killing juvenile Dinopithecus earlier in the Pliocene, then this might explain the eventual extinction of this baboon.
- Butchering of Giant Geladas at an Acheulian Site - Current Anthropology Vol. 22, No. 3 (Jun., 1981), pp. 257-268 - Pat Shipman, Wendy Bosler, Karen Lee Davis, Anna K. Behrensmeyer, R. I. M. Dunbar, Colin P. Groves, Francis Thackeray, Judith A. Harris Van Couvering & Richard K. Stucky - 1981.
- Paleoecological Reconstructions of the South African Plio-Pleistocene Based on Low-Magnification Dental Microwear of Fossil Primates - Anthropology Theses. Paper 19 - Brian D. Carter - 2006.
- Inferring Plio-Pleistocene Southern African Biochronology From Facial Affinities in Parapapio and Other Fossil Papionins - American Journal of Anthropology 132: 163-174 - F. L. Williams, R. R. Ackermann & S. R. Leigh - 2007.