The Proconsul is an extinct race of primates. They were ancestors of the later subfamily of the Dryopithecinae, just like the large anthropoid apes and humans. They lived primarily in Kenya and Uganda during the Miocene epoch between 21 and 14 million years ago. There were several species spread across a very large area and quite a long period of time. The teeth and skulls of the Proconsul more closely resembled those of anthropoids than of apes. The species varied in size and shape, ranging from that of a gibbon to a female gorilla.
In 1909 a gold prospector in Koru, near Kisumu in Western Kenya, found part of the jaw of an anthropoid ape, the first fossil from that group to be found in Africa south of the Sahara. The director of the Geological Survey of Uganda, Edward James Wayland, sent it to the British Museum of Natural History in London. At the end of the 1920’s a man named Arthur Tindell Hopwood became fascinated by this fossil and decided to travel to East Africa. In 1931 he led a palaeontological expedition which discovered nine further jaw pieces. In 1932 Arthur Keith attributed the jaw to the species Dryopithecus sp.
In 1933, based on the fossils discovered in 1931, Hopwood named three new species of primate. One of these was Proconsul africanus. Consul was the name of a famous chimpanzee in London Zoo and the name was commonly used for chimps at the end of the nineteenth century. There was even a chimpanzee called Consul performing in a circus, riding a bicycle and playing the piano. Hopwood wanted to make the point that Proconsul was a predecessor of the chimpanzee.
Text Harrie Wolters
Translation Alun Harvey