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Grantee Spotlight: Alia Gurtov

Grantee Spotlight

Over the next few months we will be introducing you to Leakey Foundation grantees from our Fall 2014 granting cycle. Our first featured grantee is Alia Gurtov, PhD candidate from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Her project is entitled “Dental microwear analysis of Early Pleistocene hominin foraging seasonality.” 

Alia Gurtov in Rising Star Cave
Alia Gurtov in Rising Star Cave

For our Early Stone Age predecessors in eastern Africa the changing of the seasons meant a profound shift in the quantity and distribution of food and water. Around 2 million years ago at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, the global trend toward increasing aridity had begun, and rainfall was limited to a few short months of the year, much as it is today. The savanna grasslands spread to the detriment of tropical forests and the biome they supported. At the same time, the evidence for meat eating in the Olduvai archaeological record became stronger, with more prey animals preserving butchery evidence than ever before. Under these new ecological conditions, the foraging strategies that our ancestors employed provide critical insights into the process of becoming human. Did Early Stone Age meat foraging vary seasonally? If so, did those activities overlap in time and space with the saber toothed cats that occupied the top of the food chain?

Alia Gurtov, MNI analysis, National Museum of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Alia Gurtov, MNI analysis, National Museum of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

By looking at the microscopic dental abrasions caused by chewing, I have shown that it is possible to determine in which season an assemblage of modern eastern African impala died. With the support of the Leakey Foundation, I will use dental microwear analysis to study the season or seasons of death represented by prey animals at Olduvai archaeological sites. I will compare these seasonal mortality profiles to those produced by contemporaneous carnivores at Olduvai and modern Hadza hunter gatherers in Tanzania. Together, these data will help to answer our questions about Early Stone Age behavioral flexibility as seen through foraging adaptations to a changing and challenging environment.

More information:

National Museum of Dar es Salaam
The Olduvai Paleoanthropology and Paleoecology Project

Click here for an update on Alia Gurtov’s project. 

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I [name], of [city, state ZIP], bequeath the sum of $[ ] or [ ] percent of my estate to L.S.B. Leakey Foundation for Research Related to Man’s Origins, Behavior & Survival, (dba The Leakey Foundation), a nonprofit organization with a business address of 1003B O’Reilly Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94129 and a tax identification number 95-2536475 for its unrestricted use and purpose.

If you have questions, please contact Sharal Camisa Smith sharal at 

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