Introducing Our Fall 2016 Grantees

The Leakey Foundation held a granting session on December 3, 2016. Our Board of Trustees unanimously approved twenty-one research grant proposals for funding.

Here are some numbers from our fall 2016 granting cycle:

There were 96 applications for research grants this cycle.

36% of the proposals were categorized as behavioral, and 64% were paleoanthropology.

456 reviews were submitted to our grants department this cycle. Thank you to our reviewers! We could not do it without you.

We would like to congratulate all of our new grantees, and we look forward to sharing news and information about them and their research along the way!


Margaret Crofoot (Gordon Getty Grant recipient), University of California, Davis:  Dominance, social stability and the emergence of collective decisions in complex societies

Piotr Fedurek, University of Roehampton:  The effect of social integration on physiological stress levels in a small-scale society

Brenna Henn, Stony Brook University:  Testing for ancient population structure in southern Africa via extensive DNA collection

Charles Menzel, Georgia State University:  Studies of chimpanzee episodic memory and foraging

Liza Moscovice, Emory University:  Explaining patterns of within and between-group cooperation among LuiKotale bonobos

Carina Schlebusch, Uppsala University:  Genotype variation in populations with Khoe-San ancestry from southern Africa

Erin Vogel, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey:  Coping with a challenging environment: Nutritional immunology in wild Bornean orangutans

Monica Wakefield, Northern Kentucky University:  Genetic census and habituation of bonobos at Iyema (Lomako, DRC)

Meike Zemihn, Leiden University:  Tracing the origins of language: Syntax in common marmosets (Brazil)


Hilary Duke, Stony Brook University:  Taking shape: Investigating the earliest Acheulean at Kokiselei, Kenya (1.8-1.76Ma)

Paul Manger, University of the Witwatersrand:  Ape brains in a comparative perspective, South Africa

Fredrick Manthi, National Museums of Kenya:  Further investigations of Middle Pleistocene sites in Natodomeri, northwestern Kenya

Emma Mbua, National Museums of Kenya:  Further fieldwork research at Kantis Fossil Site

Kelly Ostrofsky, The George Washington University:  Comparison of vertical climbing and suspension in wild African apes

Brian Schilder, The George Washington University:  The evolution of the hippocampus and adult neurogenesis: Novel insights into the origins of human memory

Stephanie Schnorr, University of Oklahoma:  Physiological relevance of salivary amylase copy number variation for starch digestion in human evolution

Sileshi Semaw, CENIEH:  Gona Palaeoanthropological Research Project

Ron Shimelmitz, University of Haifa:  New excavations at Skhul Cave, Mount Carmel, Israel

Thierry Smith, Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences:  Diversity and relationships of earliest Euprimates from Tadkeshwar Mine, India

Matt Tocheri, Lakehead University:  New archaeological excavations at Liang Bua (Flores, Indonesia)

Scott Williams, New York University:  Skeletal contributions to lumbar lordosis in recent and fossil hominins

The Grant Application Deadline Approaches!

by H. Gregory, Grants Associate

Paddy Moore and H. Gregory, The Leakey Foundation grants department

Paddy Moore and H. Gregory, The Leakey Foundation grants department

As most of you grant seekers are aware, the deadline to apply for a Leakey Foundation Research Grant in our spring 2017 cycle is January 10th. Because I am on the receiving end of our grants department email, I can tell there is a lot of grant writing going on around the world right now. While you get those proposals submitted, I thought I would share with you a few pointers based on some of the questions we have received.

Yes, something has changed. We now have a two page limit for appendices, supplemental attachments, and figures and tables combined. We will begin strictly enforcing the limit during our spring 2017 cycle.

Pay close attention to your budget. As the instructions state, we do not fund things such as equipment, trips to conferences, or salaries for senior project personnel. My advice on the budget is to move items that might be questionable to the budget column of other funding agencies to which you are applying. We do not outright reject budgets that have items we do not fund, but we will exclude those items if need be. Also, be careful with salaries. Proposals where the bulk of the requested funds are for salaries may not be seen by some as a good use of Leakey funds.

Letters of recommendation are typically late. If you are having a problem getting the letter in on time (for whatever reason), please do not worry. We will accept them for the coming weeks.

Finally, we rarely grant extensions to the deadline; however, we always consider proposals to be on time if they are in the system when we press “retrieve.” This always occurs the next business day after the deadline, which is Wednesday morning California time…

I wish all of you the best of success.

Questions or concerns? Email us!

Grantee Spotlight: Marie-Hélène Moncel

Marie-Hélène Moncel is a director of research at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France. She was awarded a Leakey Foundation research grant during our spring 2016 cycle for her project entitled “Early evidence of Acheulean bifacial technology in Europe. New fieldwork at Notarchirico (Italy).”

The site of Notarchirico, located in the Venosa Basin (Basilicata), is a key site with several levels of occupation dated to 650,000 years ago. This site has yielded the earliest bifaces in Italy, associated with faunal remains and one hominid bone.

Elephant fossil at the archaeological site of Notarchirico, Venosa. Photo: Generale Lee (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The bottom of the sequence is securely dated to more than 650,000 years and was little excavated in the past. In this project, we intend to re-open excavations in the oldest layers with an international and multidisciplinary team in order to enhance our understanding of the earliest Italian evidence of bifacial technology.

The onset of bifacial technology occurred in Europe during the key time period of 800,000-500,000 years, possibly related to dispersals of Homo heidelbergensis. The main goal of this project is to focus on the technological and subsistence behaviors of hominids working bifaces at 650,000 years ago in Southern Europe in their environmental contexts, and to compare them to behaviors of hominids living in the north of Europe. The climatic data from Southern Europe attest to mild conditions, and continuous occupations are explained in some areas by the presence of rich volcanic territories.

Moncel and her team completed their field season late this summer. We look forward to hearing about how the excavations went!


Grantee Spotlight: Rachna Reddy

Rachna Reddy is a PhD candidate from the University of Michigan. She was awarded a Leakey Foundation research grant during our spring 2016 cycle for her project entitled “The development of male reproductive strategies in wild chimpanzees.” 

Rachna Reddy (L)

Across the animal kingdom, male animals compete for mates. This competition can be fierce, and usually, the biggest, strongest, and highest-ranking males win and father the most offspring. However, in at least one population of our close relatives, chimpanzees, a remarkable number of adolescent and young adult males manage to sire offspring. This is puzzling because, much like adolescent humans, these young male chimpanzees are sexually, but not socially or physically mature. They are just beginning to become independent from their mothers and to follow adult males in the forest. Yet, it will be many years before they can actually challenge these adults for rank and mates. How then, do young males manage to mate with females? This is precisely what I will investigate.

Rachna Reddy observing a chimpanzee in the field

At Ngogo in Kibale National Park, Uganda, I will spend 15 months documenting the social lives of more than 25 adolescent and young adult males (age 8 – 20 years). Specifically, I will examine how young males use both aggression and affiliation to mate with females. Do young males, like older adults, attempt to sexually coerce females? How old and how big must males become for this strategy to be successful? And do males form social bonds with females during adolescence that influence mating? How do their interactions differ with their adolescent female peers compared to older females? This research will furnish our understanding of the development of both aggressive and affiliative male reproductive strategies in chimpanzees and may provide insights into the evolutionary origins of intersexual violence in humans.

From the Field: Laurence Dumouchel

Laurence Dumouchel is a PhD candidate from George Washington University. She was awarded a Leakey Foundation research grant in the spring of 2016 for her project entitled “The environments of the earliest obligate biped, Australopithecus anamensis.” She was kind enough to send us an update on her progress as well as an insight into how she works. (To read a summary of her work published on our blog, please click here.)

Whenever I have a challenge ahead of me, I tend to think of it as a series of steps. As I am writing these lines, one of the longest steps of my thesis is behind me: with support from the Leakey Foundation, I have concluded almost 4 months of data collection in East Africa. My research focuses on paleoecology, the study of the role the environment played in the evolution of our most ancient relatives. In particular, I look at the environments of what is possibly the first hominin to habitually walk on two legs, Australopithecus anamensis. We know that these hominins lived in the Omo-Turkana Basin in East Africa about 4 million years ago, but surprisingly little is known about the environment they live in. My thesis aims to describe what our world looked like when “we” began to walk habitually on two feet, but before I can begin to explore that, I need to collect data.

My data comes from the fossilized remains of animals that lived in the Omo-Turkana Basin 4 million years ago, and my “field sites” are the two museums in East Africa in which the fossils are housed: The National Museum of Ethiopia, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and the Nairobi National Museum, in Nairobi, Kenya. Like my thesis, my “fieldwork “in the museums centered around a series of steps. After securing the necessary permits and settling in my work station, I would begin the cycle: find, observe, measure, decide, read, reevaluate, photograph – and then repeat 2,000 times!

What did each of these steps actually look like?

#1 Pulling out a box of fossils at the Nairobi National Museum

Find:  Before I could analyze a fossil, I had to find it, so I used my database to figure out where it is physically kept in the museum – sometimes more challenging than it seems! But also exciting, as not everyone gets to roam the back halls of these rich museums, lined with turtle shells and giraffe skulls (Picture 1).

Observe:  Once I had the specimen in my hands back at my station, I started taking notes. What does it look like? Is it broken or complete? Are there any interesting traces on the bone, such as carnivore tooth marks or markings left by millions of years of tumbling at the bottom of a river bed? (Picture 2)

#2 At my work station at the Nairobi National Museum

Measure:  I collected both quantitative and semi-quantitative data. For example, I measured the depth, width and length of each specimen and evaluated categorical data, such as “mesowear” for the teeth in the collection. Mesowear is the shape and height of the cusps of a fossilized tooth – in other words, how worn they are. Different foods will wear an animal’s teeth differently, so analyzing this data will enable me to describe what type of vegetation (grass or leaves) the animal ate and therefore, the degree to which the environment was forested or savanna-like 4 million years ago.

Decide:  The most challenging step was deciding what species, genus and/or family the specimen belongs to, and what type of bone or tooth it is: the molar of an elephant or the femur of a gazelle? To ensure I made the right decision, I often compared an unidentified fossil to a previously identified one as well as to other unidentified fossils within the same collection.

Read:  Once I attributed a fossil to a species, I usually went back to the literature to double check. Is there a feature I missed? Could another species fit my description of the fossil, maybe what I thought was the femur of a large antelope was in fact that of a giraffe?

Reevaluate:  Depending on what I found in the literature, I might go back to the fossil and change its classification. Sometimes this meant revisiting other fossils I had studied days or weeks before if my perspective on an entire species or genus changed.

My photography setup at the Nairobi National Museum

Photograph:  Museum work has made me an expert in (fossil) photography (Picture 3). I took thousands of pictures during my data collection, turning each fossil to capture every angle and surface. Traveling from the United States to Ethiopia and Kenya is expensive and thorough photos can help answer questions that may arise when the data is analyzed.

Occasionally, this cycle had an additional step: drilling teeth to collect small samples of enamel powder (Picture 4). I will analyze these samples in the US for stable isotopes, a chemical analysis of the teeth which can tell us more about what these animals ate and how often they had to drink.

#4 Drilling fossil teeth at the National Museum of Ethiopia

Despite this set routine of steps, the work was more complex than it appears. And it was rarely monotonous – monkeys are frequent visitors at the National Museums of Kenya! I also met renowned experts in my field and attended the Unsung Heroes Workshop, which celebrates the work of African field assistants in East and South Africa. I reconnected with colleagues and made new contacts in the staff at both museums, all of whom were central to facilitating my research (Picture 5).

The time I spent in East Africa was extremely fruitful, and I collected data on more than 2,000 fossils. But my thesis research is not complete. For the second step of my data collection, I am heading to the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida. My work there will include more steps, from acidifying and rinsing to weighing and flushing, this time in a high tech lab in the company of humming machines. But I already miss my routine of East Africa, surrounded by fossils which survived millions of years to now help us discover how some of the most ancient members of our lineage lived.

#5 With Rose Nyaboke from the Nairobi National Museum