- Images and text by artist Russell Dempster
“I was approached a while back by Edinburgh Zoo to design ‘My Primate Family Tree’ for the Living Links department of the zoo. It was to be an educational mural to show a few representatives from the hundreds of living primates, and tell us how closely related we are to each with the bonus of being able to take part in the picture and then completing the link. It fills an outside space of 2.3m x 3m. Every monkey and ape was drawn individually and all pieced together at the final artwork stage and then printed onto 3 panels.
The base of the tree represents the evolutionary origin of primates about 65 million years ago. The Capuchin and Squirrel monkeys on the bottom left represent the primates of the ‘New World’ (The Americas) that split from other evolving primates about 35 million years ago. Next, the Gelada Baboon, Japanese Macaque and Diana Monkey on the top left represent the ‘Old World’ monkeys of Africa and Asia that split from the apes shown on the right about 25 million years ago. Our closest relative is the Chimpanzee, then it’s the Gorilla and then the Orang-utan. These great apes and ourselves are a family that share a common ancestor about 14 million years ago.”
For more information about the divergence of humans and apes see:
- Langergraber, K.E. et al. 2012. “Generation times in wild chimpanzees and gorillas suggest earlier divergence times in great ape and human evolution,” PNAS 109(39):15716–15721
- Pontzer, H. 2012. ”Overview of Hominin Evolution,” Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):8 (open access)