Friday, March 9, 2012

Hominid genus Ramapithecus named after Hindu deity Rama

While Australopithecus is seen as Early Man, Ramapithecus has been considered as the earliest hominid. Milford H. Wolpoff critically discussed and challenged this interpretation [1] and today different evolutionary possibilities are regarded: Ramapithecus as an ancestor of  Australopithecus (an ancestor of modern humans) or as an ancestor of the nonhominid orangutan [2].

Whatever ancestry, the namesake of Ramapithecus is the Hindu deity Rama. The first specimen was found by the Englishmen Guy Pilgrim in 1910, while searching for fossils in the Siwaliks Hills of India [3]. The anthropologist H. L. Shapiro writes how the “Hindu god nomenclature” was employed by following discoverers of related fossils: twenty-one years later, the Yale graduate student G. Edward Lewis found fossilized fragments at the same locality and named one specimen Brahmapithecus [3], after Brahma of the Hindu trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. What about Vishnupithecus and Shivapithecus? Well, there is the genus Sivapithecus, of which fossils had also been found in the Siwalik Hills [4,5].

Obviously, Hindu gods do not only inspire religious and philosophical thinking, but charmingly contribute to scientific terminology.  Not just fossils, but space objects have been named after Hindu deities as well, such a the trans-Neptunian object (TNO) Varna.

Keywords: Hominidae, Miocene hominids, human evolution, paleontology, anthropology, anatomy, history, nomenclature, systematics, hinduism.

References and more to explore
[1] Milford H. Wolpoff: Ramapithecus and Homind Origins. Current Anthropology October 1982, 23 (5), pp. 501-522 [].
[2] >  Ramapithecus:
[3] Harry L. Shapiro: Peking Man. Simon and Schuster, New York, 1974 (paperback edition); pp. 117-119.
[4] Modern Human Origins > Sivapithecus:
[5] David R. Begun: Sivapithecus is east and Dryopithecus is west, and never the twain shall meet. Anthropological Science 2004 [].

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