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.

Paleoanthropological Field Studies

Laetoli, Tanzania

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.

Molecular Primatology Laboratory

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 10 researchers. Equipment includes an ABI 3730 Automated DNA Analysis System, a QIAxtractor 96 well automated DNA extraction system, nine 96-well thermocyclers, a BioRad iQ5 Realtime PCRsystem, DNA fluorometer, high voltage power supplies, numerous freezers and refrigerators, three UV-crosslinkers, ice machine, incubators, ovens, environmental shaker, centrifuges, various electrophoresis units, balances, gel photography station, safety equipment and autoclave. A chemical fume hood and three HEPA-filtered laminar flow hoods with UV-lighting are present. A DNA extraction and RNA processing room is 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 six Macintosh and two Windows based workstations along with a high speed server is adjacent to the laboratory. Our research group is associated with the NYU Center for Genomics and Systems Biology and has access to their Core facility as well as access to the NYU Langone Medical Center’s Genome Technology Center.

Endocrinology Laboratory

Dr. James Higham runs the Primate Hormone And Behavior laboratory, an enzyme-immuno assay laboratory for the non-invasive measurement of nonhuman and human physiological measures. This lab is used for teaching, training and for research. Projects that are currently underway in the laboratory include the measurement of: urinary C-peptide of insulin in adult female rhesus macaques on Cayo Santiago and chacma baboons from the cape of South Africa; salivary cortisol and salivary alpha amylase from juvenile rhesus macaques and juvenile humans; and urinary immune markers from adult male rhesus macaques. These physiological measures are combined with behavioral, morphological and life-history data in our studies of primate behavioral and evolutionary ecology.

Primate Behavior Field Studies

Gashaka-Gumti National Park, Nigeria

Dr. James Higham has conducted research at Gashaka-Gumti National Park, Nigeria, since 2003. This site has numerous primate species, including olive baboons, tantalus and patas monkeys, putty-nosed and mona guenons, black and white colobus monkeys, grey-cheeked mangabeys, and the largest remaining population of the ellioti chimpanzee subspecies. Previous and ongoing work includes work on baboon reproductive ecology, stress physiology and life-history, while new work at this site will aim to look at visual communication in mona and putty-nosed guenons. Our research combines hormonal measures from fecal and urine samples with behavioral observation, collection of image data, and long-term monitoring of life-history.

Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico

Dr. James Higham conducts research on the genetics, physiology, behavior and morphology of rhesus macaques on Cayo Santiago Island, 1km off the East coast of Puerto Rico. Established in 1938, this island population has around 1000 individuals living in 6 naturally-formed social groups. Work takes place on all age-sex classes, including infants, juveniles, and both adult females and males. Our research has combined genetic data, both functional genetics and genetic parentage data to determine relatedness and reproductive success, with hormonal measures from blood, urine, feces and saliva, photographic data on visual signals, digital recordings of vocalizations, morphometric data collected on anaesthetized animals, behavioral observation, and long-term monitoring of individual development and life-history. This comprehensive approach has allowed traits and behaviors to be analyzed in terms of underlying genetics and physiology, while also assessing the long-term consequences of trait variation.