Special Resources and Facilities in Physical Anthropology
Paleoanthropology and Skeletal Morphology Laboratories
These laboratories house an excellent collection of fossil casts ranging from Paleogene primates to Late Pleistocene hominids used for both teaching and research purposes. The Daris R. Swindler collection of primate tooth plaques features human and nonhuman primate casts for dental research. The facilities also house a comprehensive series of comparative mammalian skeletons and cadavers, including a large collection of nonhuman primates, and comparative human teaching skeletons. The laboratories are equipped with standard osteometric equipment (calipers, mandibulometer, osteometric boards) and three-dimensional digitizers (Microscribe 3DX). Each laboratory has computer workstations with software for collection, processing, and statistical analysis of two- and three-dimensional coordinate data (i.e., InScribe, GRF-ND, Morpheus, TPS, and Morphometrika), as well as general statistical packages (i.e., SAS, Statistica, and NT-SYS). Casting and dissection facilities are available, as is an extensive research library.
Laboratory of Molecular Anthropology and Primatology
The Molecular Primatology Laboratory is one of the best equipped molecular anthropology laboratories in the country. The main laboratory on the fourth floor consists of over 2000 square feet with bench space for up to 13 researchers. Equipment includes an ABI 3730 Automated DNA Analysis System, nine 96-well thermocyclers, a BioRad iQ5 Realtime PCRsystem, DNA fluorometer, high voltage power supplies, numerous freezers and refrigerators, UV-crosslinker, ice machine, incubators, ovens, environmental shaker, centrifuges, various electrophoresis units, balances, pH meter, micro-concentrator, gel photography station, safety equipment and autoclave. A chemical fume hood and three HEPA-filtered laminar flow hoods with UV-lighting are present. DNA extraction and RNA processing rooms are located on the second floor of the Anthropology building with all necessary equipment listed above to allow the extraction of low copy number DNAs from exotic sources such as feces, bone, teeth, hair, museum skins and other biological detritus, so as to avoid DNA contamination from the main laboratory. A computer room equipped with 8 Macintosh and two Windows based workstations along with a high speed server is adjacent to the laboratory. The laboratory also houses an Apple rack-mounted Xserve Cluster with 16 X 2.0 GHz dual-processor Xserve systems and a three-Terabyte disk array.
Yasuní National Park and Biosphere Reserve, Ecuador
Dr. Anthony Di Fiore conducts research on the behavior, ecology, and population genetics of several species of New World monkeys at the Proyecto Primates Field Site. Located in the Amazon region of Ecuador, the site was established in 1994 to promote the study and conservation of the diverse primate community of lowland Ecuador – a community that includes spider monkeys, woolly monkeys, howler monkeys, capuchins, tamarins, squirrel monkeys, pygmy marmosets, owl monkeys, sakis, and titi monkeys. Many of these species are the subjects of ongoing research by Dr. Di Fiore and his students and collaborators. Additionally, the site is used for an ongoing study of forest phenology and composition, and numerous other scientists have taken advantage of the site’s trail system for research on birds, bees, butterflies, and other types of animals. Scientists conducting research at the site work from the Estación Científica Yasuní, a biological field station run by the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Ecuador.
Primatological Field Studies
the Awash Valley, Ethiopia
Our field project on the baboons (Papio hamadryas and P. anubis) and grivet monkeys (Cercopithecus aethiops aethiops) of the Awash National Park was begun in 1973 in collaboration with Hans Kummer (University of Zurich) and F.L. Brett (University College London), and since 1982 has been run in collaboration with J. Phillips-Conroy (Washington University, St. Louis). Many graduate students from both American institutions have participated in fieldwork, and most of these have gone on to complete Ph.D. dissertations on the material gathered. As well as being one of the longest-running studies of primate populations in the wild, this was the first to investigate a naturally-occurring primate hybrid zone (between the two baboon populations), and the first to apply "hands-on" methods of live-trapping, sampling, and release, to primate populations that were concurrently the subject of behavioral observation. We thus have a unique genetic, developmental and biomedical database that extends over nearly thirty years, and much work remains to be done on it in the labs (see the section on "Population Genetics and Molecular Anthropology Laboratory", above). Our quest for understanding of the biological bases of behavioral variation continues to lead us into new areas – we have recently become the first team to assay behavior-related levels of neurotransmitters in the cerebro-spinal fluid of wild non-human primates, and the first to document natural levels of a "signalling" molecule related to nutritional levels and the onset of pubertal changes. We anticipate that there will be future opportunities for fieldwork by graduate students, both as members of the trapping team, and individually in research projects.
Paleoanthropological Field Studies
Since 1998, Terry Harrison has been director of an international multidisciplinary team investigating the geology and paleontology of the fossil hominid locality of Laetoli in northern Tanzania. The main hominin bearing sediments are Pliocene in age, dating from older than 4.2 million years to about 2.6 million years. Laetoli is renowned as one of the most important paleontological and paleoanthropological localities in Africa, being made famous by Mary Leakey’s work at the site in the late 1970s. The site is important because it has yielded a number of fossil hominids, as well as unique trails of footprints, belonging to Australopithecus afarensis, one of the earliest stages in human evolutionary history. In addition to hominids, the fauna from the site is remarkably diverse, and it serves as a key reference for comparisons with other Plio-Pleistocene sites in Africa. The primary objectives of the current project are to recover additional fossil hominids, and to obtain more detailed contextual information on the paleontology, geology, dating, and paleoecology. To date, renewed investigations at Laetoli have led to the discovery of more than 40 new paleontological localities, and recent expedition have succeeded in recovering over 25,000 fossils, among which are several new fossil hominin specimens. These include new finds of Australopithecus afarensis specimens and the first discovery of Paranthropus aethiopicus from Tanzania.