Our Fall 2014 Speaker Series starts October 10 in Chicago with an exciting new program at the Adler Planetarium, “Humans Evolving: A Story of Adaptation,” presented by Dr. Leslea Hlusko of the University of California, Berkeley.


The lecture, adapted for the Grainger Sky Theater’s unique 360-degree dome environment, will lead the audience on a journey through seven evolutionary snapshots that trace our lineage from before the split with chimpanzees to inhabiting six of the seven continents we live on today. Along the way Dr. Hlusko will explore how human evolution, geography, and climate change are intertwined and how humans are subject to the same evolutionary forces that influence all of Earth’s life forms.

Tickets are available now for $10 or $5 for students and members of the Adler Planetarium or The Leakey Foundation.


October 21, Dr. Frans de Waal of Emory University will give a lecture at the Houston Museum of Natural History. "Ethics Without God? The Evolution of Empathy and Morality in the Primates" is based on his bestselling book "The Bonobo and the Atheist." There will be a book signing after the talk. Frans de Waal is a behavioral biologist known for his work on the social intelligence of primates.

His first book, Chimpanzee Politics, compared the schmoozing and scheming of chimpanzees involved in power struggles with that of human politicians. Ever since, de Waal has drawn parallels between primate and human behavior, from peacemaking and morality to culture.

Tickets are on sale now and are $18 or $8 for students. 

On October 24, we'll be in Cleveland, Ohio at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Dr. Karen Strier will give a lecture called, "Primate Conservation in a Rapidly Changing World." This Leakey Foundation lecture is part of the museum's Explorer Series. Karen B. Strier is an international authority on the endangered northern muriqui monkey, which she has been studying in the Brazilian Atlantic forest since 1982. Her pioneering research has been critical to conservation efforts on behalf of this species, and has been influential in broadening comparative perspectives on primate behavioral and ecological diversity.

Tickets are available now. $10 general admission, $8 for CMNH members.

Carol Ward field2.jpg

December 3, Carol Ward will be at the California Academy of Sciences. Her talk is entitled "The Shape of Human Evolution."

Walking upright on two legs is the hallmark of the human lineage. Understanding when and how we made the transition to this unique way of moving about the world is key to deciphering how and why we evolved. In recent decades, more bones associated with the trunk have been discovered for fossil hominins, shedding new light on the evolution of body form in apes and humans. New 3D imaging technologies allow us to study these fossils in new ways. These insights into the evolution of human body form paint a striking picture of the transition from ape to hominin, leading to a new way of thinking about our origins.

Tickets will be available soon.

We'd like to thank our partners and sponsors for making this series possible. Our national sponsors are : Ann and Gordon Getty, and Camilla and George Smith. Our regional sponsors are: J. Paul Johnson, the Brown Foundation, Cornerstone Wealth Management, and Merrill Lynch Wealth Manangement - Venture Services Office of San Francisco.

AuthorMeredith Johnson
CategoriesSpeaker Series

by Dr. Anne Stone,  Arizona State University

Photo: David Bygott BY-NC-SA 2.0

Photo: David Bygott BY-NC-SA 2.0

How hard can it be to extract DNA from the teeth of chimpanzees that died only 30 or 40 years ago? These were my initial thoughts when presented with the opportunity to examine the DNA of the most famous chimpanzees in the world. These individuals, studied by Dr. Jane Goodall at Gombe, included Flo, Madam Bee, Satan, Hugo, and Getty.

At the time of her initial pioneering work, collecting genetic data was not part of the standard primatology repertoire. Today, all of the chimpanzees at Gombe are genotyped for autosomal microsatellites to see how they are related to each other (and, in particular, to figure out paternity). Such analyses began there in 1991 with the development of non-invasive methods of DNA sampling such as using shed hair collected from night nests or using fecal samples. These data have been key for testing hypotheses about kin selection, social structure, mating patterns, and reproductive success. Assessing the same microsatellites in some of the early individuals would let us add to the existing pedigree. In addition, we could see whether inbreeding is increasing (because of increasing isolation from other chimpanzee communities) by comparing the genetic diversity within the community over time. Finally, maybe we would be able to retrieve SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus, found there today) to see who was infected and how the virus has changed over time...if the preservation were sufficient.

Alas, it was not. Ancient DNA work is some of the most frustrating research there is (though perhaps some of the paleoanthropologists will disagree as they search long and hard for fossils!) This frustration I learned twenty years ago when I was in graduate school working on the genetic analysis of a prehistoric Native American population, with funding from The Leakey Foundation, to see how members of that community were related to each other and what their genetic diversity told us about the peopling of the Americas.

Ancient DNA analyses are challenging for several reasons. First, the DNA is degraded, usually into pieces that are smaller than 100 bases long. Second, it is damaged; this can cause the enzymes used to copy the DNA to make mistakes or not work at all (for example if the DNA fragments are tangled into chemical knots that the enzymes can’t attach to). Finally, contamination is one of the greatest concerns, so researchers in the field take great precautions to prevent modern DNA from entering their ancient DNA labs. 

Photo:  Anne Stone

Photo:  Anne Stone

However, over the last twenty years, the changes in molecular biology and in the field of ancient DNA have been dramatic. When I began my dissertation, PCR (the polymerase chain reaction) was cutting edge technology, and it allowed us to amplify small fragments of DNA from specific regions of the genome (which was not yet completely sequenced!) It often took weeks or months to amplify and sequence the five small fragments that I targeted in order to piece together a ~350 base pair sequence of the mitochondrial hypervariable region, and I often ran out of DNA before I was successful. Today my students and I can extract DNA and turn it into a DNA library. In essence, this immortalizes the DNA so that we can go back to it repeatedly for different experiments. We can also use DNA baits to “fish” out only the DNA fragments in the library that we are interested in, and then we can sequence those fragments of DNA using high throughput sequencing technology. Thus, we can target the entire mitochondrial genome (~16,500 bases long) and sequence it (along with many other samples) in only one sequencing run!

So why hasn’t this new technology worked (yet) for the Gombe samples? Ancient DNA is best preserved in cold, dry places with a neutral or slightly alkaline pH and minimal temperature fluctuations. Gombe is not one of those places. These individuals were buried in the ground for approximately 1-3 years, and then their skeletons were curated for further study. Dr. Mike Wilson (University of Minnesota) worked with us to select and scan the tooth samples, and then my laboratory extracted the DNA from tooth roots, which typically preserve DNA best because they are so hard. Our results to date indicate that these samples have very little DNA. However, we have not yet lost hope. Recent methods developed to recover smaller fragments of DNA (30–70 base pairs in length) were employed successfully with samples from Sima de los Huesos (which are over 300,000 years old.) These results offer the possibility that we will still be able to obtain DNA from the Gombe samples. We are currently testing those methods and we will keep you posted as to our success!

AuthorH Gregory

Go back to school in style and support human origins research at the same time! 

Your purchase helps to fund research grants as well as public outreach and education about human evolution, behavior and survival.

AuthorMeredith Johnson

Louis Leakey, for whom The Leakey Foundation is named, was born on this day in 1903. To celebrate him and his legacy, we invite you to read on and learn a little more about the jovial man who devoted his life to uncovering our shared past. 

Louis Leakey showing off a spear at a fundraiser. Los Angeles, 1970.

"People frequently ask me why I devote so much time to seeking out facts about man’s past…the past shows clearly that we all have a common origin and that our differences in race, colour and creed are only superficial."

-Louis Leakey

Louis Leakey (b. 1903, d. 1972) was a tireless promoter of the study of human origins, and exerted tremendous impact on the prevailing conception of early humans with his theoretical and paleontological work in the field.

In addition to the 20 books and over 150 articles he wrote in his lifetime, as well as the multiple fossil and stone tool discoveries that contributed so significantly to our understanding of the field, he was also largely responsible for convincing other scientists that Africa was the key location in which to search for evidence of human origins. Leakey’s early, controversial, yet unwavering position that Africa was the cradle of humanity has held up against modern scientific scrutiny, and is now universally accepted.

Give a gift

Donate to The Leakey Foundation in honor of
Louis Leakey's birthday!

Louis was born on August 7, 1903 at Kabete Mission (near Nairobi), Kenya where his parents, Harry and Mary (Bazett) Leakey, were English missionaries to the Kikuyu tribe. Louis grew up speaking Kikuyu as fluently as English, and at age thirteen was initiated as a member of the Kikuyu tribe. He later (1937) wrote a definitive study of their culture.

Leakey began his university career at Cambridge University in 1922, but a rugby injury caused him to postpone his studies, and he left to help manage a paleontological expedition to Africa. He graduated with degrees in both anthropology and archaeology in 1926. After completing his degrees, Leakey began leading expeditions to Olduvai, a river gorge in Tanzania, where he found important fossils and Stone Age tools. In 1948 he reported finding a 20-million-year-old skull, which he named Proconsul africanus. Now considered to be too specialized to have been a direct ancestor of current ape and human populations, Proconsul is still considered scientifically valuable as a model for early human ancestors.

The first significant hominid fossil attributed to Leakey (a robust skull with huge teeth dated to 1.75 million years ago) was found by Louis’s collaborator and second wife, Mary Leakey. It was found in deposits that also contained stone tools, and Louis claimed it was a human ancestor and called it Zinjanthropus boisei (it is now considered to be a form of Australopithecus.)

Another important discovery was the 1964 reporting of Homo habilis (named by Louis, along with Phillip Tobias and John Napier), which Leakey believed was the first member of the actual human genus as well as the first true toolmaker. However, the interpretations of Leakey’s fossil finds are still controversial; their significance to the field of human origins is universally acknowledged.

Leakey also exerted influence in collateral areas, such as the emerging field of primatology. He was responsible for initiating Jane Goodall’s long-term field study of chimpanzees in the wild, and he helped obtain and coordinate funding for similar projects such as Dian Fossey’s work with mountain gorillas in Rwanda, and Birutė  Galdikas work with orangutans in the Sarawak region of Indonesia.

Always a dynamic and energetic man, Leakey kept up a rigorous schedule of lecturing and fundraising. On route to a speaking engagement in London in 1972, Louis Leakey suffered a heart attack and died. Though he always had his detractors, Louis Leakey is considered to be a significant contributor to the understanding of our origins, and he radically changed the way we now view early humans. He strongly supported, in the face of great opposition, Darwin’s assertion that human evolution began in Africa; pushed back the known dates for the existence of various species; changed phylogenies to include the existence of parallel lines of evolution in the human family; and stimulated research in new fields like primatology, as well as generating interest and publicity for the study of human origins.

AuthorMeredith Johnson

The Leakey Foundation is hiring! We are seeking a  Grant Writer to work with our Executive Director on development projects.

A Leakey Foundation school outreach visit at KIPP NYC in the Bronx with Daniel Lieberman of Harvard.

A Leakey Foundation school outreach visit at KIPP NYC in the Bronx with Daniel Lieberman of Harvard.

The Grant Writer provides assistance to the Executive Director and Development Committee in support of philanthropic grant revenue generation for The Leakey Foundation, by identifying resources, writing grants and raising funds for organizational programs. The position requires knowledge of the funding landscape including private, corporate and family foundations and deep knowledge of grant-making trends. 

Application Instructions: After downloading the Grant Writer job description, please submit your cover letter and resume to The Leakey Foundation’s Executive Director, Sharal Camisa: Sharal@leakeyfoundation.org. Please, no phone calls.  You will receive confirmation of your email and you will be contacted via email or phone if selected for an interview.

 The Leakey Foundation is an Equal Opportunity Employer. 

AuthorMeredith Johnson

By Sharal Camisa, Executive Director

This entry is a follow-up to the June 4th eNewsletter story on Spain.

The Leakey Foundation’s Fellows Tour began in Santander, Spain, one of the richest regions in the world for archeological sites from the Upper Paleolithic period, and continued with a visit to Southern Spain and the rock of Gibraltar.

Our home base for this two-day extension was Malaga. Malaga’s history spans about 2,800 years, making it one of the oldest cities in the world…a perfect place to immerse ourselves in the varied stories of our ancestors. Its rich history is on display with monuments and remains from the Phoenician, Roman, Arabic and Christian eras. Our hotel was within steps of the walls of the Phoenician City and a Roman theater dating from the 1st century BC; the hotel was a carriage ride away from the Castle of Gibralfaro built during the 11th century; and the hotel stood in the shadow of the Malaga Cathedral built between 1528 and 1782.

[FUN FACT: The original plan for the Malaga Cathedral included two bell towers, but only one tower was erected due to the reallocation of funds. Where were the funds spent instead? The money was donated to help the cause for American Independence. A bronze plaque is affixed to an external wall of the Cathedral, presented in 1957 by the National Society for the Sons of the American Revolution. The plaque reads, "We hereby wish to express our sincere and deep appreciation for the generosity of the people of Malaga…who in the year 1780 contributed 400,000 reales to his Majesty King Carlos III for aid to the American Colonies in their war with Great Britain and for support of General Bernardo de Galvez Governor of Louisiana. As a result of their generosity they abandoned the construction of the second bell tower for this cathedral. We will never forget your offering to our country."  Today, the Malaga Cathedral is affectionately known as, La Manquita, loosely translated as “one armed woman”.] 

An hour's journey from Malaga, overlooking the countryside is the megalithic complex of the Dolmens of Antequera. We were greeted by the Director of Research at the Dolmens, Dr. Leonardo Garcia Sanjuan and the newly elected President of the Royal Academy of Antiquera, Bartolome Ruiz Gonzalez. These megaliths are prehistoric forms of architecture dating from the Neolithic, about 6,500 years ago. We began our visit with a viewing of an animated-short film on the variety of techniques used by the builders to create these stone chambers. Imagining the strength needed to move the massive slabs of stone and the precision needed to place those stones, inspired appreciation for the value these people placed on these spaces of ritual.

The Menga Dolmen is considered to be the largest such structure in Europe, with a narrow passageway opening to an oval shaped chamber at the opposite end of the entrance.  The entrance to Menga is facing the north where the sun would rise during the summer solstice. This orientation is unusual, although Dr. Garcia Sanjuan explained that it is aligned with an enormous crag of limestone rising 2,880ft called La Peña de los Enamorados. He hypothesizes that this remarkable limestone formation (with its shape resembling a sleeping woman) was a powerful symbol with deep ritual significance to the people of that time. One piece of evidence to support that idea is the schematic-style prehistoric paintings in a cave on the north face of La Peña de los Enamorados.   

The walls of Menga were constructed using 24 massive upright stones, with three stone pillars holding up the five stones acting as the roof. Once covered by dirt, Menga’s dome is 164ft. in diameter. I truly understood the extraordinary construction of this monument when Dr. Garcia Sanjuan explained that geologists from the local university came to Menga to determine the weight of the 33 slabs of rock used to construct Menga. I greatly appreciated the (fun) way the weight was explained… “Imagine two jumbo jets stacked one on top of the other, both filled with people and petrol…that is equivalent to the weight of the stones.” I love science!

Out time in Antiquera also included exploring the Tholos of El Romeral and then a truly unique culinary experience at a nearby restaurant called Arte de Cozina. The chef creates dishes using traditional and ancestral recipes from the region. My favorite dish was a trio of cold soups: one red, one white, one green. 

Our last day of the tour took us to the rock of Gibraltar for an excursion by boat to understand the geology of the rock and see the locations of the famous Gorham’s Cave Complex- including Vanguard, Hyena, Bennetts and Gorham’s Caves 

Our guides for this exciting adventure were native Gibraltarians Dr. Clive Finlayson and Dr. Geraldine Finlayson. Clive Finlayson is a paleontologist and the Director of the Gibraltar Museum. For over 30 years, he has been known the world-over for his research on Neanderthals as well as his vast experience studying the natural and cultural aspects of Gibraltar. He has researched and assisted in a number of international television documentaries on ecology and on human evolution for the BBC, National Geographic Explorer Series, and Discovery Channel; he has authored or co-authored books and has published in science and history journals.

Geraldine Finlayson is Deputy Head of Heritage, as well as Director of the Institute for Gibraltarian Studies and Chief Laboratory Scientist of the Gibraltar Museum. She co-directs the Underwater Research Unit (URU) that is currently surveying the seabed and caves for the Gibraltar Caves Project. As Director of the Institute for Gibraltarian Studies, she is responsible for the research into the intangible heritage of Gibraltar, including linguistic studies and oral histories.     

Dr. Geraldine Finlayson has said that Gibraltar was once “a Mediterranean Serengeti” where “deer, wild horse and cattle grazed on the savannahs and were stalked by a strange mix of predators that included spotted hyenas, leopards, brown bears, wolves and lynxes. This was truly a bit of Africa in Europe.”

Evidence has shown that Neanderthals were not only exploiting their marine habitat, but in a captivating paper in PLOS One entitled, "Birds of a Feather: Neanderthal Exploitation of Raptors and Corvids"Dr. Finlayson et. al argue that Neanderthals had the cognitive ability to think symbolically and create ornamentation, “by cutting the feathers and inner bones from the birds of prey they captured, leaving them with the outer shell, and using them as ornaments as has been the case in other cultures across the world.” 

Some of Dr. Clive Finlayson’s work in recent years has been to add the Gorham Cave Complex to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Here is a short excerpt from his 2012 proposal: 

“The attributes that give the site its Outstanding Universal Value are: (a) Gorham’s Cave is the last known site of the Neanderthals on the planet and records the arrival of the earliest modern humans; (b) Gorham’s Cave has an unrivalled archeological and paleontological sequence; (c) Gorham’s and Vanguard Caves provide unique high resolution evidence of Neanderthals behavior; (d) Gorham’s and Vanguard Caves provide high resolution evidence of climate change between 55 and 10 thousand years ago; (e) The Caves and cliffs within the site retain all the features that made it a favoured habitat for the Neanderthals. The landscape uniquely memorializes an extinct people and their culture” 

Before heading back to shore, the captain ferried our boat to show us where the coast might have been during the time of the Neanderthals. Today, the depth of the Strait of Gibraltar ranges from 980-2,950 feet, but when the Neanderthals were living on the landscape, the sea level was about 350 feet lower! This means that our ancestors may have once occupied caves that are now submerged. Ongoing research by the Underwater Research Unit will surely offer a more comprehensive picture of life on and near Gibraltar.

As we entered the marina at the end of our day together, I had the chance to ask Dr. Clive Finlayson one more question. “If you could find the definitive answer to one question about human origins, what would it be?” Without missing a beat, he smiled and said, “Did Neanderthals have art?” Time will only tell, but I’m confident that the Finlayson’s are on the trail to finding the answer. 

If you would like to be part of the next Leakey Foundation Fellows Tour in 2015, please contact Sharal Camisa.

AuthorBeth Green

The Leakey Foundation is hiring a part-time Outreach Coordinator to plan our outreach and Foundation events. We're seeking someone who enjoys science and planning complex events. Join our team, located in the beautiful and historic Presidio of San Francisco.

A Leakey Foundation school outreach visit. Professor Dan Lieberman of Harvard with students at KIPP NYC in the Bronx.

A Leakey Foundation school outreach visit. Professor Dan Lieberman of Harvard with students at KIPP NYC in the Bronx.

Application Instructions: After downloading the job description, please submit your cover letter and resume to The Leakey Foundation’s Executive Director, Sharal Camisa: Sharal@leakeyfoundation.org. Please, no phone calls.  You will receive confirmation of your email, and you will be contacted via email or phone if selected for an interview.

The hiring for this position will take place by August 31, 2014 with employment to begin September 1, 2014. 

 The Leakey Foundation is an Equal Opportunity Employer. 

AuthorMeredith Johnson

Thousands of varieties of tomatoes, wheat, and ants still cohabit the earth, whereas we modern humans are the solitary heirs of a lost family. Life adores diversity and profusion, but through the mysteries of evolution we find ourselves the sole representatives of the genus Homo. Is this a reason to forget or to scorn our common roots and the tree on which we form a single branch? 

Elisabeth Daynès' exhibition asks us to look straight into our ancestors' eyes and rediscover the aspects that a larger, wider, and richer humanity once possessed and could have still possessed. Where science stops, the art of the paleo-artist begins: “I sculpt hypotheses.” Through her, on the basis of the latest scientific advances, the flesh is suddenly back on the skulls and our most ancient past stares us in the face. These are no longer dusty relics relegated to a museum shelf. 

They appear in the magic of a hologram, in a family circle where all appear in their skinless truth, building the foundations for that concentration of thought, light, and desire that we call a face. The visitor discovers each of the eight actors in our evolution successively in the form of a skull, a skinless head (a giant illuminated three-dimensional hologram), and an artistically reconstituted face. “The most important aspect of my sculptures, is the look in the eyes,” insists Elisabeth Daynès. Two figures of Homo sapiens — anatomically modern men — entirely recreated in their attire, contemplate this plunge into the flesh of our origins with us. The exhibition’s international opening takes place in the grandiose setting of the Pôle international de la Préhistoire, a free public cultural space devoted to the valorisation of prehistory. 

Born in Béziers (France) in 1960, Elisabeth Daynès was fascinated by the fine arts and theatre at an early age. After working with the German stage director Matthias Langhoff, she opened her first sculptor’s studio when she was only 24. Her passionate interest in prehistoric humans grew during the 1990s, when she applied the latest scientific knowledge to reconstituting fossilized men for the Tautavel Museum, and recreating the Australopithecus Lucy in 1999. In 2006, her reconstruction of Pharaoh Tutankhamen’s face earned her international recognition and put her on the cover of every edition of National Geographic. In 2010, she received the John J. Lanzendorf PaleoArt Prize. In 2011, the Prehistory Museum of Ile-de-France devoted a solo exhibition to her work, while a number of her sculptures of hominids were inaugurated in South Korea.

AuthorBeth Green

By Sharal Camisa, Executive Director

There are few moments more thought-provoking than standing in a dark, damp cave with your arm outstretched, hovering your hand above a red-ochre hand print made over 20,000 years ago, and wondering about the individual who made that impression.  Eighteen passionate paleo-science enthusiasts had such an opportunity during an incredible journey of Northern Spain from May 18-23, along with an extension to Gibraltar May 23-25. (Look for the forthcoming Director’s Diary: Gibraltar in the July eNewsletter.)

The Leakey Foundation’s Fellows Tour began in Santander, Spain, the capital city of the Spanish autonomous community of Cantabria. Cantabria is one of the richest regions in the world for archeological sites from the Upper Paleolithic period. During our time in the region, we visited prehistory sites and museums, famous the world over.

The Museum of Prehistory and Archeology in Santander was a rich experience for our group. Our guide was the Museum’s Director, and Director of the Prehistoric Caves of Cantabria, Roberto Ontanon Peredo. The museum was dense with cutting edge technology; layers of visual lessons were everywhere-hanging from the ceiling (faux stalactites), on the floor (video screens), and jutting out from the walls (a cross section of sediments).

At the National Museum and Research Center of Altamira the Director Jose Antonio Lasheras Corruchaga joined us. After a private guided tour of the (closed) museum, the group went behind the scenes to the library, which overlooked the laboratory. There we had a special viewing of first edition books, including the first drawings (1880’s) made of the art inside the Cave of Altamira.

FUN FACT: Closed since 2004 for conservation efforts, the research center is [experimenting with] allowing visitors to visit the cave of Altamira, on a very limited basis. Every Friday, five lucky “winners” will be allowed to enter the cave for a special guided tour. The winners are selected amongst all the visitors that morning who enter their name in a random drawing…Five names are selected, and they receive the chance of a lifetime to explore the real Altamira!

At the site of El Castillo, we were joined again by Roberto Ontanon Peredo and also El Castillo’s Project Director Federico Bernanldo de Quiros. Our group was divided into teams of ten, with one batch heading in to the cave to see the art, and the other batch learning about ongoing excavations at the site. Inside the empty (closed) cave, it was a visual feast of over 275 figures, representing the most ancient Paleolithic art in the world dating back at least 40,800 years ago. Horses, bison, goats and a mammoth (among other species) represented a variety of animals living alongside man. Over 50 negative handprints could be found, and geometric forms and abstractions were also present.

Our visit to Ramales de la Victoria to see the sites of the Covalanas Cave and El Miron Cave would prove to capture the imaginations of all. Our hosts were Manuel Ramon Gonzales Morales, Project Director of El Miron, and once again Roberto Ontanon Peredo.  Set in the spectacular mountainous landscape of the Cantabrian countryside, the two caves offered a combination of ancient art and new discoveries.   

Our visit to the site of El Miron holds special significance for The Leakey Foundation, as we provided research funds in 1995, 1996 and 2003 for Dr. Lawrence Straus and his Spanish colleagues. Nineteen years since our first grant, and over a hundred thousand finds made, the discovery of Magdalenian burials stands out for their significance. We are very excited to see what will come next from the site of El Miron

Covalanes is a small cave (just up the hillside from El Miron) with two galleries, and the first animal form appears 213 ft. from the entrance. Small dots and lines compose the set of artwork, which is characteristic of some of the caves located in the Basque country and in the Asturias region. This technique inspired thoughts of Seurat’s pointillism, and invoked the famous quote by Pablo Picasso (after his visit to a French cave in the 1940’s), “We have learned nothing in twelve thousand years."

But the art wasn’t only in the caves. The group enjoyed an evening tour of Frank Gehry’s titanium “ship” known as the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao where we walked through Richard Serra’s installation, laughed at the whimsical “Puppy” by Jeff Koons, and explored the temporary exhibit “Yoko Ono: Half a Wind Show: Retrospective.”  Visits also included a stop at the Museo Picasso in Malaga and Burgos’ Romanesque Cathedral where the artistry and craftsmanship took our breath away. (One of my favorite discussions on the tour, was what constitutes art? A painting of a bison in a cave, or a totally white chess board, or maybe an abstract acrobat? To each our own!)

For many travelers on the Foundation's Tour of Spain, it was Sierra de Atapuerca that could not be missed! Horizontal rain and blowing wind could not deter our group from savoring the incredible opportunity we had, thanks to Professors Jose Maria Bermudez de Castro and Maria Martinon-Torres.  Atapuerca is an exceptional example of the earliest human story, and we were able to view three major excavations at the site including the Gran Dolina (viewed from high-above on scaffolding). One of our guides, Dr. Martinin-Torres is a 2012 Leakey Grantee for a research project titled,Micro-CT study of the Pleistocene human fossil teeth from Atapuerca.” Following Dr. Martinin-Torres informal talk on her project, one fellow traveler told me, “Never have teeth been so exciting!” Our time at Atapuerca evoked excitement for all.  

It is the site of Sima de los Huesos (at Atapuerca) that many people know by its translation, Pit of Bones. And for good reason…at the bottom of a 43ft. cave shaft, no fewer than 28 humans have been discovered, and this sample represents 75% of hominid fossils known between 100,000 and 1.5 million years ago. We had a chance to view many of the original fossils from Sima de los Huesos on our tour of the Museum of Human Evolution with its Director (and Co-Director of Atapuerca) Juan Luis Arsuaga. It was thrilling to see exquisite fossils, including the pelvis “Elvis” and skull number 5, and to ask Professor Bermudez de Castro about ongoing excavations.

The technology being used at archeological sites and museums continued to surprise me throughout our travels. At a very special site called Santimamiñe in Basque Country, the site offers a comprehensive installation developed to create a virtual tour of the cave, housed in a small hermitage. A guide “led” us through the cave on a stereoscopic screen with audio, and we “explored” the 1,100ft. long original cave. Fully digitized detail with total precision, the minimal margin of error is only 2-inches throughout the entire project. 

Earlier this day we visited the newly opened Archeological Museum of Bilbao and toured the processing and storage facilities to see how every artifact that is excavated in tgalleryhe Basque Country is managed in a state of the art computer database.  

So the group enjoyed visits to archeological sites and museums, but as to be expected in Spain, meals were also an adventure. Over the course of seven days, travelers had the chance to converse on the many wonders experienced, while dining at incredible restaurants. The group enjoyed four Michelin-starred dining experiences: El Serbal in Santander, lunch at Solana in the Cantabrian countryside, Nerua near the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, and Jose Carlos Garcia in Malaga.  There were also lively spots for more casual tapa’s; the “Willy Wonka” boxes at the end of a few meals; raising a glass of cava wine to toast Dr. F. Clark Howell’s pioneering work in Spain; and a feast onboard a boat floating in the waters surrounding Gibraltar.  

At our final dinner together, I asked the group to reflect on a special moment they experienced on the tour…something they learned or something that was awe-inspiring.

That dinner conversation was as memorable as the special moments we shared…it was honoring the memory of a father with a visit to Atapuerca; it was standing beneath a favorite piece of art (the spider) at the Guggenheim in Bilbao; it was asking for a bit more melted chocolate on a dessert; it was wondering about the life of a buried Magdalenian woman; it was braving the elements, the narrow paths, the scaffolding and the 300 stairs to visit important archeological sites; it was celebrating a wedding anniversary with new and old friends; and for some it was just having the opportunity to take the journey.

For me, the highlight was floating my hand above that very special red-ochre handprint.  

If you would like to be part of the next Leakey Foundation Fellows Tour in 2015, please contact Sharal Camisa

AuthorBeth Green

The Leakey Foundation’s Annual Fellows Dinner and Auction was held on Friday, April 25, 2014 at the historic Chateau Carolands in Hillsborough. The event is a way to acknowledge the Foundation's patrons whose generous support allows us to continue the mission of our organization, which is to increase scientific knowledge and education. 

The gathering of 80 guests included scientists in the human origins field and the donors who provide indispensable financial resources, making possible vital research and exciting new outreach programs. This year marked the 44th anniversary of the event, and the Foundation raised over $20,000 (through silent and live auctions, as well as a raffle) with 100% of the proceeds going toward research grants.

AuthorBeth Green

If you missed Laurie Santos' SciCafe presentation at the American Museum of Natural History, we have a video of her presentation.

The ancestral history of humans and primates is extensive, but can it explain even our financial choices? New experiments in "monkeynomics" demonstrate that monkeys make some of the same silly financial choices we do -- but sometimes they make smarter choices.
AuthorMeredith Johnson

By Dr. Jerry Drawhorn

This year, and 60 years since the last extensive analysis of the remains led to the discovery that the Piltdown skull was a fraud, a team of over 15 analysts - including experts in ancient DNA, radiocarbon dating and isotope studies - have been assembled by Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in London to re-examine the Piltdown collections using modern analytical methods. The goal is to both to establish the precise methods used to fabricate the remains, and also to determine the original sources for the specimens and clarify the motives of the forger(s). The new studies, scheduled to be published next year, place in context the advances that have been made in analysis and scientific cooperation since the Piltdown finds were unearthed a century ago. No forgery of any significant fossil hominin could today escape disclosure simply because they would face a similar gauntlet of tests prior to peer-reviewed publication. As well, the new studies will reveal the greater detail that has been obtained since the original analysis of the chemical contents of the remains led to the exposure of the fraud almost exactly sixty years ago (Weiner, Oakley, and Le Gros Clark, 1953).

The “Years of Colonial Empire” prior to First World War were quite different from the modern spirit of international cooperation and joint scientific expeditions. The scientific prestige of nations and museums was based on whether they acquired and exhibited new fossil remains. Belgium, France, Germany, and even the Austro-Hungarian Empire had discovered remains of Neanderthals in the soil of their homelands, and in some cases sent covert teams to excavate materials on foreign soil. German collectors had also discovered a form, Homo heidelbergensis they believed distinct and earlier than Neanderthals. And a Dutch scientist, Eugene Dubois, had recently discovered what appeared to be an even more primitive hominin, Pithecanthropus erectus, in the tropical colony of the East Indies. Embarrassingly, Great Britain lacked any ancient human remains.  As well, analyses of fossils were performed by one or two individuals responsible for evaluating the geology of the site, archaeological materials and anatomy of the specimens. It was in this context that the now infamous Piltdown remains were first revealed to the public in Burlington House in December 1913. 

Dubbed Eoanthropus dawsoni, the skull was supposedly first discovered by workmen digging out gravel along a country road in Sussex in 1908, the cranial bones were identified by a local attorney and landlord’s agent, Charles Dawson. After a mysterious delay of several years he brought the thick fragments to the attention of his friend, Arthur Smith Woodward, the Keeper of Geology at the Natural History Museum in London. Dawson and Woodward had a long relationship of nearly thirty years, having been inducted into the Geological Society of London on the same evening in 1885, and Dawson regularly supplied Woodward, an ambitious palaeontologist in the Natural History Museum, with fossil fish, dinosaur bones, and the teeth of ancient mammals. Woodward and Dawson (1913) eventually collected more specimens, including faunal specimens (hippo, elephant, rhinoceros, horse, and beaver), and “eolithic” artifacts, which suggested that the cranium was older than the Neanderthal remains of Europe and at least as old as Dubois’ Pithecanthropus specimen. In addition, an ape-like mandible was discovered, and the following year (1914) a large canine matching Woodward’s reconstruction was found in previously sieved gravel by French Jesuit cleric and paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin, who had been invited to join in the dig. All these remains were covered in a rich chocolate brown patina that mirrored the iron-stained gravels of the Piltdown pit.

Despite their apparent antiquity, the human specimens were, however, distinct from Pithecanthropus. Thus only one of these potential hominins could be directly ancestral to modern humans. The cranium of Eoanthropus had significantly smaller brow ridges, a higher forehead, and smaller occipital torus than the Javanese skull. These traits suggested modern affinities, but critical to the assessment was the cranial capacity. The parietal bones of the Piltdown skull were incomplete and broken, and oddly lacked any trace of a sagittal suture to indicate a midline. This allowed some latitude for reconstructing the brain size. Woodward had initially suggested that the cranial volume of the skull was only slightly larger than Pithecanthropus, but anatomist Arthur Keith, by brilliantly measuring the surface areas of the bones from more subtle landmarks demonstrated that the brain size of the skull was actually well with the range of modern human populations. However, the associated mandible and the canine indicated a much more apelike face than the dental remains that Dubois had associated with Pithecanthropus. Because the round cranium lacked the brows and tori of Neanderthals and Pithecanthropus and had a modern brain size, Eoanthropus ascended to the status of the singular ancestor to Homo sapiens, with all hitherto hominins competitors pushed to side branches fated with extinction. This interpretation fitted well with Smith Woodward’s orthogenetic view that organisms acquired odd accretions, crests and spines as the phyletic lineage aged.

A phylogeny with so many side-branches was irksome to many human paleontologists, particularly the Ales Hrdlicka, who supported a more lineal sequence to human evolution with less requisite parallelism. Hrdlicka raised questions about the association of the mandible and cranium, pointing out that the absence of an occipital condyle on the mandible prevented a direct anatomical connection. Immediately afterwards, Dawson reported a new locality had been discovered, with both a fragment of thick cranium and a molar tooth from the opposite side of a mandible, but otherwise identical with the original finds. This seemed to foreclose any argument that the mandible and skull could be unassociated.

Because of some noticeable coloration differences of some of the specimens, there had been requests to analytically test the possibility of admixture of remains from different stratigraphic levels, by contrasting the mineral content of the cranium, mandible and the faunal remains. Smith Woodward suggested that the coloration differences were simply because Dawson had applied different levels of preservative on the specimens. Only some inconclusive examinations on the skull by a local chemist in Dawson’s village were performed. This is puzzling because the Fluorine test had been utilized in 1879 by Thomas Wilson to test the antiquity and association of the spurious Calaveras cranium. And Woodward himself had used the Fluorine test to assess the antiquity of bones of the South American Glyptodon associated with human remains (Moreno and Woodward, 1889).

In the period between World War I and II hominin discoveries accumulated, with many broadly confirming the existence throughout the Old World of hominins that broadly resembled Neanderthals or Pithecanthropus (now called H.erectus). In South Africa, curiously small-brained, bipedal forms (Australopithecus) with far more human-like dentitions than Eoanthropus were being recovered. And in what is now Zambia, a skull of H. heidelbergensis was discovered, and Woodward himself described it. He curiously made no mention of his Piltdown discovery at all. Except for Woodward’s book The Earliest Englishmen, (1948) based on his notes at the time, for most reviewers of human evolution at this time, the Piltdown discovery seemed to become an extended footnote, a peculiar specimen without a confirming match in the geological record.

That very same year, Kenneth Oakley (1848), who had revived the application of the Fluorine Dating technique, applied the analysis to the Piltdown remains.  The results, showing oddly low levels of Fluorine adsorption in the skull and jaw compared to the faunal remains aroused the attention of Joseph Weiner of Oxford University. He contacted Kenneth Oakley with his concerns of a possible fraud and they assembled a team of specialists from London's Natural History Museum and Oxford University to careful reexamine the remains. In 1953, in the same Burlington Hall theater were Eoanthropus was originally announced they showed the find was a cleverly assembled fake, combining a Medieval-era human skull with the jaw of an orangutan, and planted with appropriately aged fauna- all artificially stained to resemble the Piltdown gravels. Oakley noted that the chemical composition of many of the specimens appeared not to derive from English collection sites and a radiocarbon dating of the orangutan jaw suggested a sub-fossil specimen that pre-dated collections of materials of zoological collections.

Weiner was more curious than Oakley as to “who-dunnit” and eventually established that Charles Dawson was likely the primary “man-on-the-spot” and perpetrated the fraud. Weiner showed that Dawson was associated with all three sites where collections of stained human remains had been found (a third site with more “modern” crania was never published by Woodward), as well as some stained “eoliths”.  Smith Woodward was regarded as an uncritical dupe. But over the last decades a long list of “suspects” (almost all those mentioned in Weiner’s book) have been proposed as possibly involved. Other long-dead suspects identified by researchers include Arthur Smith Woodward, the museum's keeper of geology, who championed Dawson's discoveries and gave them vital scientific credibility. Many of the Piltdown remains appear to have potential sources in collections that Smith Woodward curated, studied or directly excavated (Drawhorn, 1994). The finger has also been pointed at de Chardin (Gould 1979), Arthur Keith (Spencer 1990); and even "Sherlock Holmes" author Arthur Conan Doyle (Winslow & Meyer 1983), who lived in Crowborough about 11 km away. Recent suspicion has also fallen on museum zoologist Martin Hinton (Gardiner and Currant, 1996; Gardiner 2003). A trunk with Hinton's monogram was found in 1971, a decade after after his death, which contained animal bones and human teeth claimed to be in stained the same way as the Piltdown fossils.

The new barrage of studies will hopefully clarify whether the fraud involved a knowledgeable break-up of the skull and jaw to lead anatomists astray. As well they may reveal the precise sequence the stains were applied, and distinguish between the endogenous mineral composition of the faunal materials and the applied chemicals. Are the applied stains actually identical to the methods used by Hinton on his faunal and human specimens? And do the trace isotopes of the Piltdown specimens allow them to be associated with known fossil collections and expose the manner in which the hoaxer obtained them? All who have been fascinated by what has been called “the greatest scientific fraud in history” anxiously await a final resolution of the case.

Drawhorn, G. M. (1994) Piltdown: Evidence of Smith-Woodward’s Complicity. American Association of Physical Anthropologists on April 1, 1994 (The abstract of this paper appears in the February 1994 issue of the AJPA) http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/piltdown/drawhorn.html

Gardiner BG  The Piltdown forgery: a re-statement of the case against Hinton. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2003, 139, 315–335. With 12 figures

Gardiner BG, Currant A. 1996. The Piltdown Hoax who done it. Linnean Society of London, Burlington House.

Gould SJ. 1980. The Piltdown conspiracy. Natural History (New York) 89: 8–28.

Moreno, F.P. and A.S. Woodward. 1989.
 On a portion of mammalian skin, named 'Neomylodon listai', from a cavern near Consuelo Cove, Last Hope Inlet, Patagonia. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1:144-156.

Oakley KP. 1948. Fluorine and the relative dating of bones. Advancement of Science 4 (16): 336–337.

Spencer, F. 1990. Piltdown: A Scientific Forgery  “Beyond A Reasonable Doubt?” pp. 188-208  London: Natural History Museum Publications.

Weiner, J. S., Oakley, K. P, and Le Gros Clark, W. E., (1953) The Solution of the Piltdown Problem. Bull. Brit. Mus. (Nat. Hist), Geol.,2, No. 3, 139-46

Winslow J, Meyer A. 1983. The perpetrator of Piltdown. Science 83 (4): 32–43.

Dawson, C. and A.S. Woodward. 1913.
 On the discovery of a Paleolithic human skull and mandible in a flint-bearing gravel overlying the Wealden (Hastings Beds) at Piltdown, Fletching (Sussex). Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 69:117-151.

Dr. Jerry Drawhorn is a Biological Anthropologist at Sacramento State University. A graduate of UC Berkeley and UC Davis, he has studied the evolution of fossil orangutans in Indonesia and Malaysia. He is also involved in research on the interactions between Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace and their influence on others involved in Victorian-era zoological research in Southeast Asia.

AuthorH Gregory

The auditorium was full. More than three hundred people were seated in the audience, eagerly anticipating hearing about and seeing beautiful examples of the art that our ancestors were making thousands of years ago. As Dr. White stepped up to the podium and said his first words, the power went out, and the auditorium was plunged into darkness.

Dim emergency lights came on as the back-up generator kicked in. Amy Potts, and Daniel Burch of the Houston Museum of Natural Science scrambled to find out what was going on; if it was just the museum, or if the outage was more widespread. Once we determined that the power was out for the surrounding area, and it wasn't likely to come back on soon, we came up with a plan B.

Dr. White agreed to give his talk in the dark, without slides. It was a powerful and moving experience for those who stayed to listen, and the experience of listening together in the dark made it even more memorable.

The Leakey Foundation would like to thank Randall White for going above and beyond, the Archaeological Institute of America - Houston for partnering with us on this amazing lecture, and The Houston Museum of Natural Science for being a a great partner and a venue that can keep it's cool when things don't go according to plan!



AuthorMeredith Johnson
Skull 5, in-situ. Dmanisi, Republic of Georgia.

Skull 5, in-situ. Dmanisi, Republic of Georgia.

Dr. David Lordkipanidze's newest evidence to come from Dmanisi has set the stage for a lively debate between the lumpers and splitters. For the past two decades, Lordkipanidze­—a five-time Leakey Foundation grantee (1998-2003)­­—and his colleagues have excavated at Dmanisi, a long-term study site in the Caucasus in the Republic of Georgia, approximately 50 miles southwest of Tbilisi. This early Paleolithic site has proven to hold rich deposits of fossils and tools, producing very complete skulls from a pivotal time in human evolution, about 1.8 million years ago.

The Leakey Foundation has funded 10 research grants at Dmanisi, including work by Reid Ferring, James Macaluso, Philip Rightmire, and Martha Tappen. For some of these studies, the Foundation is one of only two American funders. YOU can help us continue to fund this type of important work; keeping science in the forefront and exploration into our origins a priority. 


The Leakey Foundation strongly believes in the funding of long-term research. With dedication and perseverance come great discoveries, like Skull 5. Please help support long-term research and donate to The Leakey Foundation today. 

Listen to David Lordkipanidze's talk "First Out of Africa"

In 2011, Dr. Lordkipanidze gave the lecture "First Out of Africa" for the 2011 Leakey Foundation Speaker Series on Human Origins. (Note: the recording starts just a couple of minutes into the program.) 

Related links:

AuthorBeth Green