Reconstruction of the Subfossil Lemur Hadropithecus. (Stephen Nash, Conservation International Stony Brook University)
In August, 2008, Laurie Godfrey (Anthropology) and Natalie Vasey (Anthropology, Portland State University) visited the Vienna Natural History Museum with the express purpose of reuniting parts of a skeleton of a subadult of a rare species of extinct lemur, Hadropithecus stenognathus . Parts of this individual were first discovered in Andrahomana Cave (southeast Madagascar ) in 1899 by a little known explorer named Franz Sikora. Sikora sent the specimens he found, which included an incomplete skull of the subadult, along with specimens belonging to an infant, juvenile, and adult, to Vienna . There, they were described by Lorenz von Liburnau, who named the species. In 2003, a team comprising paleoecologist David Burney (Director of Conservation at the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Kalaheo, Hawaii), paleontologists Laurie Godfrey (Anthropology, UMass, Amherst) and William Jungers (Anatomy, Stony Brook University, New York), archaeologist Ramilisonina (Museum of Art and Archaeology, Antananarivo, Madagascar), and primatologist Natalie Vasey (Anthropology, Portland State University, Oregon) explored the cave. They settled on a remote corner of the cave for careful, systematic excavation – a site they called “Ramily's house,” named for the Malagasy archaeologist and team member, Ramilisonina, who directed excavation there.
The site yielded numerous bones of extinct and extant animals, including jaws and other bones belonging to one of the smallest of the living lemurs ( Microcebus ) as well as one of the largest of extinct lemurs – Megaladapis edwardsi . But the prize resident of Ramily's house was Hadropithecus stenognathus . The team found parts of the skeleton of Hadropithecus that were previously unknown, including the first hand bones, vertebrae, and ribs, along with some hind limb elements that confirmed Godfrey's earlier hunches regarding postcranial attributions. Best of all, the team found pieces of frontal bone (parts of the eye sockets) and isolated teeth that proved to belong to Sikora's subadult Hadropithecus . Alan Walker at Pennsylvania State University noticed that association, and launched an effort to reconstruct the whole skull digitally, using the pieces found in 1899 and other pieces that we had found more than 100 years later, in 2003! This reconstruction was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (August 5, 2008, vol. 105, pp. 10699-10702). Meanwhile, Godfrey organized an effort to have casts made of all of the bones of this individual, unite the original cranial and postcranial elements in Vienna , and distribute complete sets of casts of the skeleton to Madagascar , the University of Massachusetts , and the American Museum of Natural History in New York . That laborious casting effort (being conducted at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and at the Vienna Natural History Museum ) is complete, and visitors are able to see the new arrival in the Godfrey laboratory in Machmer Hall.
Hadropithecus was a large male baboon-sized lemur with a flat face and a long tail. It would have spent a lot of time on the ground and it lived several thousand years ago along the southern and western shores of Madagascar , as well as at some interior sites.
From left to right: Natalie Vasey (Portland State University), Laurie Godfrey (University of Massachusetts, Amherst), and Ursula Gohlich (Vienna Natural History Museum) with skull of subadult Hadropithecus, orbits restored. August 2008. Photo by Alice Schumacher.