Blackwell Publishing

The reconstruction of phylogeny - What happens when morphological and molecular methods clash?


The molecular and fossil evidence disagreed

The controversy has now been largely settled in favor of the molecular evidence. The morphological characters previously believed to show a relation between Homo and Ramapithecus succumbed to reanalysis.

1. The dental arcade of Ramapithecus had been wrongly reconstructed (originally by combining parts from different specimens).

2. The reduced canine teeth may be because the fossil Ramapithecus specimens were female.

3. The thickened enamel was reinterpreted as an ancestral character.

The specimens formerly classified as Ramapithecus are now usually included in the genus Sivapithecus (a fossilized skull of which is pictured opposite), thought to be a close relative of the ancestors of modern orang-utans.

In this example molecular evidence helped to inspire a reanalysis of the fossil evidence for hominid origins - with the result that a figure of about five million years is now widely accepted for the time of origin of the hominid lineage.

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