Julia Ostner
University of Göttingen

Female Assamese macaque

Researchers have been performing daily focal observations and fecal sampling on this study group of habituated Assamese macaques in Thailand’s Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary since October 2006.  For her investigation of ecological, social and reproductive stress in female macaques, Julia Ostner used data collected between September 2007 and February 2009. This time period included two events that resulted in periods of marked social instability for the group, the death of an adult female and later that year the death of an alpha-male at the hands of co-resident males.

In the report below Ostner summarizes her team’s progress in disentangling the sources of physiological stress and their effects on female primates. 

AuthorH Gregory
CategoriesResearch Report

Empathy comes naturally to a great variety of animals, including humans. Individuals come to another's aid in a fight, put an arm around a victim of attach, or exhibit other emotional response to the distress of others.

"Ethics without God? The Evolution of Morality and Empathy in the Primates," a lecture by Frans de Waal, accompanies the recent release of his book "The Bonobo and the Atheist," exploring empathy's survival value in evolution and how it can help to build a more just society based on a more accurate view of human nature. Dr. de Waal demonstrates that animals and humans are preprogrammed to reach out, questioning the assumptions that humans are inherently selfish by studying social behavior in animals, such as bonding and alliances, expressions of consolation, conflict resolution, and a sense of fairness.

Tickets are now on sale. $18 for adults.

There will be a book signing after the lecture.

This lecture is sponsored by The Brown Foundation.

Frans de Waal shares his research on moral behavior in animals in this fascinating TED Talk.

"The Good Ape," a Scientific American MIND article, reviews and recommends "The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism among the Primates."

Dr. Frans de Waal is C. H. Candler Professor in the Psychology Department of Emory University and Director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences. In 2007, he was selected by Times as one of the "The World's 100 Most Influential People Today," and in 2011 by Discover as one of the "47 All Time Great Minds of Science."

AuthorArielle Johnson

Leslea Hlusko will give a free lecture on the campus of the University of Chicago entitled "Fossils, Genes, and Teeth: Reconstructing the Evolutionary History of the Mammalian Dentition."

October 9, 2014
12 Noon
BSLC 109
Dorothy and Gaylord Donnelly Biological Sciences Learning Center. 
924 East 57th St.

Leslea Hlusko's research team combines quantitative and developmental genetics with paleontology and neontology to elucidate the evolutionary history of the mammalian dentition.  She will present an overview of some of their more recent discoveries, highlighting how these seemingly disparate approaches can be combined synergistically.

Leslea Hlusko is Associate Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California Berkeley. Her many research projects include the curatorial rescue of Mary Leakey's excavated fossils at Olduvai Gorge. She is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the 2014 recipient of the American Cultures Program Innovative Teaching Award. She is a research associate with the Kenyan National Museums and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

Click here for a pdf flyer for the talk.

AuthorMeredith Johnson

Anne E. Russon and her team have been collecting field data on east Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus morio) at the newly established Bendili study area (northern border of Kutai National Park) since January 2010. Russon has been awarded two grants by The Leakey Foundation for her study of the ranging behavior and diet of this population, which due to the harsh environment is considered to be the extreme of orangutan adaptation.

Stay tuned for a research report from Russon. In the meantime, we thought we would share this picture and her comments (below).

CLICK IMAGE FOR FULL SIZE  Photo Credit:  Purwo Kuncoro  

Our 'resident' female Putri with a new infant (only 1-2 months old) and her older son Pur (6-7). In my humble opinion, son Pur looks not too happy - understandable given that his life would have changed a lot with the arrival of a new baby. Interbirth intervals in East Bornean orangutans (morio) may be shorter than they are in other Borneans or in Sumatrans. We've only recorded one birth so for and we don't know Pur's age for sure--but we've followed Putri and Pur since 2010 and we estimated Pur to be about 2 years old then. Even assuming that estimate was 1 year out (he was really 3), he'd still only have been about 6 when the new infant was born. So this birth tends to support the shorter-interbirth-interval possibility.

Further reading on Anne's work:

"An Orangutan Learns to Fish" - New Yorker
"Orangutan fish eating, primate aquatic fauna eating, and their implications for the origins of ancestral hominin fish eating" - Journal of Human Evolution 



AuthorH Gregory
CategoriesFrom the Field

The world is made less joyful with the recent passing of Dr. Irven DeVore. He passed away on Tuesday, September 23, 2014 from heart failure.

Irven DeVore . Photo from The Leakey Foundation Archive

Irven DeVore . Photo from The Leakey Foundation Archive

Irv joined The Leakey Foundation as a Trustee in 1974 and served until 1978. He became Co-Chair of the Scientific Executive Committee in 1980 and was later honored with the title of SEC Emeritus, joining his colleagues Clark Howell and Philip Tobias.

Irv was professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University. He began his fieldwork in 1959 studying the behavior and ecology of free ranging baboons in Kenya. Beginning in 1963, Irv directed studies of the !Kung San (Bushmen) of Botswana which led to the publication of two books, Kalahari Hunter Gatherers and Man the Hunter. He went on to co-direct a long term study of the Efe (pygmy hunter-gathers) and Lese (horticultural villagers) of Zaire.  

This obituary from the Boston Globe beautifully describes Irv, along with his rigorous scholarship, nurturing mentorship, humor and insatiable zest for life. He will be dearly missed by all of us at The Leakey Foundation.

The Annual Review of Anthropology presents Irven DeVore, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Harvard University, in conversation with Peter Ellison, Professor of Anthropology and Human Evolutionary Biology, also at Harvard University.




AuthorMeredith Johnson

Brigitte Spillmann, PhD Candidate
Anthropological Institute and Museum, University of Zurich

Photo:  Mure Wipfli

Photo:  Mure Wipfli

Brigitte Spillmann was awarded a Leakey Foundation research grant in spring 2010 for her PhD project focusing on the functions of the long call, the long distance signal of the flanged male orangutan.

Long distance signaling in widely dispersed, semi-solitary species is often used to mediate individuals’ ranging behavior and social relationships.  Such is the case with orangutans, whose long call is generally considered to be a means by which to repulse male rivals and/or attract potential female mates.  There is also evidence that there exists another function:  travel coordination between flanged males and non-receptive, female “friends.”  However, this may not always be the case.  Male-male competition and male-female relationships differ between Sumatran and Bornean populations, and consequently, their long calls do not always serve the same purpose or elicit the same response. 

Brigitte Spillmann. Photo:  Mure Wipfli

Brigitte Spillmann. Photo:  Mure Wipfli

In this project Spillmann set out to further elucidate the function and content of the long call in Sumatran and Bornean orangutans by systematically comparing the two populations.  Methods included collection of general behavioral data on full day focal follows; recording of long calls whenever possible during focal follows; playback experiments to test the immediate reactions and delayed ranging responses to both spontaneous and elicited long calls; and finally, utilizing autonomous acoustic monitoring (AAM), a grid of time synchronized recording devices used to identify and triangulate the locality of calling males.

The report below details the fieldwork performed by Spillmann and her team as well as their ongoing progress in combining AAM with focal follow data to construct a model of this communications network.

AuthorH Gregory

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: C. Paul Johnson, The Brown Foundation, Cornerstone Wealth Management, and Merrill Lynch Wealth Management - 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.

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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