50th Anniversary Gala Triumph

By Sharal Camisa, Executive Director, The Leakey Foundation

Leakey Foundation supporters and grantees gathered in San Francisco on May 3 to celebrate 50 years of exploration, discovery and sharing our human story.

The celebration featured a cocktail reception with a portrait studio, and the dinner party began with a performance of South African music by Chinyakare Ensemble. Dr. Kelly Stewart served as our master of ceremonies and introduced speeches Leakey Foundation President Camilla Smith, Executive Director Sharal Camisa, and Scientific Executive Committee Member Nina Jablonski. Our keynote speech was delivered by the Director of the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum, Kirk Johnson.

The enthusiastic crowd pledged a record amount of money during our lively auction, and the evening concluded with an after party which featured unique virtual reality experiences and scrumptious late-night snacks.

The gala raised $394,392 for research and outreach funding, and over half of our guests were new supporters.

Welcoming those new supporters was one of the many personal highlights of this very special event. Here are a few more:

Witnessing the reunions of colleagues and friends.

From top left: 1) Nina Jablonski and Thure Cerling 2) Denise Su and Erin Vogel 3) Gordon Getty and Kristen Hawkes 4) 2018 Leakey Foundation Speaker Series lecturers all together: Erin Vogel, John Mitani, María Martinón-Torres and Bernard Wood 5) Joan Donner and Nina Carroll

Asking Rick Potts to donate soil from the Olorgesailie site where he and his team made an extraordinary discovery.

From top: 1) The gift was presented to Gordon Getty as a token of thanks, and the crowd laughed along with Camilla Smith when she presented him with “dirt.” 2) Casts of the 13-million-year-old fossil Alesi were presented to past Presidents of the Board of Trustees, Kay Woods and Don Dana. (A cast was also mailed to Bill Wirthlin who was unable to join us in San Francisco.) The discovery of Alesi was funded by The Leakey Foundation and has made worldwide news.

Singing along to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” with Donald Johanson during the auction.

Following the sing-along, Don Johanson offered to give the auctioneer the skull-print tie he was wearing to sell to the highest bidder. Then, Spencer Wells offered to sell the talisman he carried with him around the world while filming “Journey of Man.” Then, an anonymous donor contributed a pair of courtside tickets to a Warriors’ basketball championship game. The surprise auction raised $9,700! (Donald Johanson and Ellen Toscano)

Experiencing unique and unforgettable moments.

1) Serving Iron Horse Wine at the Chairman’s Reception; the room was decorated with prehistoric horse images donated by Jean Clottes. A big thanks to Austin and Sara Hills for providing red and white wines from Grgich Hills Winery at the gala.
2) Greeting three generations of the Richards family.
(Dana and Annie Lajoie and Bill Richards)
3) Watching guests enjoy the virtual reality headsets during the After Party.
(Carol Rabenhorst and Bernard Wood)
4) Celebrating our beloved Founder Joan Travis and seeing guests make pilgrimages to her table all night to offer their appreciation for her hard work.
(Camilla Smith, Brian Howell and Joan Travis)

Working with the most amazing team!

From left: Arielle Johnson, Sharal Camisa, H. Gregory, Kristin Berger, Rachel Roberts, Paddy Moore, Meredith Johnson, Jenine Marquez

Stay tuned for part two – with more photos and highlights!

First Report of Habitual Stone Tool Use by Cebus Monkeys

White-faced capuchin monkeys in Panama’s Coiba National Park habitually use hammer-and-anvil stones to break hermit crab shells, snail shells, coconuts and other food items, according to visiting scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI). This is the first report of habitual stone-tool use by Cebus monkeys.

Male white-faced capuchin monkey uses a stone as a hammer on Jicarón Island in Panama’s Coiba National Park. Photo: Brendan Barrett

“Despite being studied for more than 25 years at several field sites, no species in the genus Cebus has ever been previously observed habitually using stone tools,” said lead author Brendan Barrett, a Leakey Foundation grantee and postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

To observe white-faced capuchin monkeys (Cebus capucinus), Barrett and colleagues set up motion sensor-triggered camera traps. Based on a year of data from the cameras, researchers never saw adult females using stone tools, despite their presence at the site. Among males, stone-tool use was common. At one site, capuchin monkeys used tools on more than 80 percent of the days they were observed.

Coiba National Park lies about 23 kilometers from Panama’s Pacific Coast and consists of nine larger islands and more than 100 smaller islands. The islands were isolated from the mainland between 12,000 and 18,000 years ago by sea-level rise after the last ice age. Cebus monkeys are found on three of the larger islands, Coiba Island (50,314 hectares), Jicarón Island (2,002 hectares) and Ranchería Island (222 hectares). Stone tool use was only observed on Jicarón Island.

This study is the first to report stone tool use by white-faced capuchin monkeys (Cebus capucinus), and is the only report for any species in the genus Cebus, the gracile capuchins. Photo: Brendan Barrett

Capuchins used large stones held in both hands to process tough Terminalia catappa nuts, and smaller stones held in one hand to process smaller items such as hermit crabs and snails. They also transported seeds and stones to processing areas.

Researchers concluded that tool-users spend a large amount of time on the ground, which is possible on this protected island where the monkeys have few predators and resources are likely to be as or more scarce than they are on the mainland. Cebus monkeys on the mainland do not use stone tools, although they commonly pound and rub fruit and small-animal prey such as squirrels and lizards on branches to process them as food.

Species in the genus Sapajus, known as robust capuchin monkeys, native to South America, have long been known to use tools. In fact, tool use is one of the characteristics that distinguish this group from the smaller monkeys in the genus Cebus, known as gracile capuchins, found in Central and South America.

Chimpanzees (Pan) and macaques (Macaca) also use stone tools. Tool use in macaques is also limited to islands. The use of stone tools by robust capuchins, gracile capuchins in the Americas and macaques in Thailand to process T. catappa nuts will be an interesting opportunity to compare the origins of this behavior. Tool use in other primates likely preceded tool use by the first human relatives roughly three million years ago.

“In addition to the excitement of adding a fourth (known) genus of stone-tool-using primate to our list, it is exciting to be doing ecological research in Panama’s Coiba National Park, a unique place where there is a lot of potential for discovery for conservation research to be done,” Barrett said. “STRI’s new Coibita field station helps make it possible to do field research on Jicarón and Coiba Islands, remote places where research is logistically challenging.”

You can help support discoveries like this. Donate to The Leakey Foundation today!

“The capuchins of Coiba National Park provide us with an amazing opportunity for studying how and why stone-tool use emerges, as well as what record it leaves behind,” said Meg Crofoot, recipient of The Leakey Foundation’s Gordon Getty Grant for Multidisciplinary Research, research associate at STRI, and professor of anthropology at the University of California, Davis. “White-faced capuchins are a very well-studied species, so stumbling upon a tool-using population—the only one known for the entire genus—was really unexpected and serves as an important reminder of the behavioral diversity waiting to be discovered. It highlights the importance of remote and little-known areas like Coiba National Park, and serves as a vivid call to action to conserve behavioral, cultural and genetic diversity.”

Barrett, B.J., Monteza-Moreno, C.M., Dogandižić, T., Zwyns, N., Ibañez, A. and Crofoot, M.C. 2018. Habitual stone-tool aided extractive foraging in white-faced capuchins, Cebus capucinus. bioRxiv. http://dx.doi.org/10.1101/351619

Members of the research team are affiliated with STRI, the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell, Germany, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, the Animal Behavior Graduate Group at UC Davis, the Department of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania and Estación Científica Coiba, AIP, Panama. The research was funded by a Coss Award for International Field Research, an STRI short-term fellowship, a Leakey Foundation grant, funds from the Max Planck Institute, a Packard Foundation Fellowship and a grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation.

This article was written with material provided by the Smithsonian Institution News Desk.

Grantee Spotlight: Stephanie Musgrave

Stephanie Musgrave, Department of Anthropology, Washington University in Saint Louis, was awarded a Leakey Foundation Research Grant during our spring 2016 cycle for her project entitled “Ontogeny of complex tool use among Goualougo Triangle chimpanzees.”

Field assistant David Koni points out to Musgrave distinguishing characteristics of Sarcophyrnium, the herb chimpanzees favor for manufacturing insect fishing probes.

The emergence of complex technology is a hallmark of human evolution, and understanding the factors that led to the flourishing of technology in the human lineage is an enduring effort in anthropology. “High-fidelity” social learning mechanisms, such as teaching or imitation, are hypothesized to be integral to the persistence of complex tool traditions over time. These mechanisms can ensure the faithful transmission of complicated behaviors from one individual to another and are often considered unique to humans. Sex differences in tool-assisted foraging are also hypothesized to have played an important role in the emergence of tool technologies in humans. While the first evidence for tool use dates to 3.4 million years ago, human ancestors and Miocene apes likely used perishable tools much earlier. The evidence for this, however, may be invisible in the archaeological record, so other types of evidence are essential for understanding the evolution of technology.

Gombe chimpanzee, Glitter, using a tool to eat termites. Photo: Julie Lesnik

Chimpanzees offer an invaluable opportunity to test hypotheses about the role of specific factors in the spread and maintenance of complex tool traditions.

Along with bonobos, chimpanzees are our closest living relatives, and every studied wild population of chimpanzees makes and uses tools. In the Congo Basin, chimpanzees show some of the most complex tool behavior of any nonhuman species. There, they sequentially combine different tool types to gather termites, ants, and honey. They select particular plant species to manufacture their tools, and they also manufacture brush tips on the ends of herb probes, a modification which makes these tools more efficient at gathering insects.




The goal of my research is to investigate how specific social learning mechanisms, as well as sex differences in learning, affect the acquisition of tool skills by immature chimpanzees in the Goualougo Triangle, Republic of Congo. One of my specific research aims is to characterize the steps by which youngsters learn to use tools during termite gathering and to quantify the impact of specific social learning mechanisms on skill acquisition. Chimpanzees gather termites from above-ground and underground termite nests, and I am documenting their behavior in both settings. Termite gathering is more difficult in the subterranean context, as it requires more steps and a more flexible strategy. Comparing the developmental process between these contexts can help us better understand how task difficulty impacts the learning process and relates to the amount or type of social learning that occurs. In addition, I am tracking whether male and female chimpanzees learn skills differently, to help clarify the influence of intrinsic sex differences, task characteristics, and maternal behavior on learning.

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I also look forward to comparing the ontogeny of termite-gathering skills to the acquisition of other tool tasks at Goualougo, and to the development of termite-gathering by chimpanzees in other populations, such as those of Gombe, Tanzania. This will help us gain broader insights into the sources of intraspecific diversity in chimpanzee tool repertoires and help us better model the evolutionary origins of human material culture.


Foot of Dikika Child Shows How Our Ancestors Moved

More than three million years ago, our ancient human ancestors, including their toddler-aged children, were standing on two feet and walking upright, according to a new open-access study published in Science Advances.

Left: The 3.32 million-year-old foot from an Australopithecus afarensis toddler shown in different angles. Right: The child’s foot (bottom) compared with the fossil remains of an adult Australopithecus foot (top). Photo: Jeremy DeSilva & Cody Prang

“For the first time, we have an amazing window into what walking was like for a 2½-year-old, more than three million years ago,” says lead author, Jeremy DeSilva, a Leakey Foundation grantee and associate professor of anthropology at Dartmouth College, “This is the most complete foot of an ancient juvenile ever discovered.”

The tiny foot, about the size of a human thumb, is part of a nearly complete 3.32-million-year-old skeleton of a young female Australopithecus afarensis discovered in 2002 in the Dikika region of Ethiopia by Leakey Foundation grantee Zeresenay (Zeray) Alemseged, a professor of organismal biology and anatomy at the University of Chicago and senior author of the study. This remarkable fossil skeleton is nicknamed Selam or ‘the Dikika child.’

In studying the fossil foot’s remarkably preserved anatomy, the research team strived to reconstruct what life would have been like for this toddler. They examined how it developed and what it tells us about human evolution. The fossil record indicates that these ancient hominins were quite good at walking on two legs. “Walking on two legs is a hallmark of being human. But, walking poorly in a landscape full of predators is a recipe for extinction,” explained DeSilva.

“Placed at a critical time and the cusp of being human, Australopithecus afarensis was more derived than Ardipithecus (a facultative biped) but not yet an obligate strider like Homo erectus. The Dikika foot adds to the wealth of knowledge on the mosaic nature of hominin skeletal evolution,” explained Alemseged.

At 2½ years old, the Dikika child was already walking on two legs, but there are hints in the fossil foot that she was still spending time in the trees, hanging on to her mother as she foraged for food. Based on the skeletal structure of the child’s foot, specifically, the base of the big toe, the research suggests that children probably spent more time in the trees than adults. “If you were living in Africa three million years ago without fire, without structures, and without any means of defense, you’d better be able to get up in a tree when the sun goes down,” said DeSilva. “These findings are critical for understanding the dietary and ecological adaptation of these species and are consistent with our previous research on other parts of the skeleton especially the shoulder blade,” Alemseged noted.

A nearly complete foot from Dikika, Ethiopia and its implications for the ontogeny and function of Australopithecus afarensis  BY JEREMY M. DESILVACOREY M. GILLTHOMAS C. PRANGMIRIAM A. BREDELLAZERESENAY ALEMSEGED

This article was written with materials provided by Dartmouth College.

The New Deadline for Our Fall 2018 Cycle is August 1st

Greetings from The Leakey Foundation Grants Department

The Leakey Foundation Office, Presidio, San Francisco

If you are considering applying for a Leakey Foundation Research Grant during our fall 2018 cycle, you are probably aware that we have temporarily removed the links to our online application. We are in the process of migrating our granting software to the cloud. Due to a few delays in the process, we have decided to move our application deadline from July 15 to August 1st. This will give us the opportunity to ‘go live’ with the links sometime in mid-July and then give you sufficient time to apply.

We understand that this may be somewhat of an inconvenience, and we are sorry for this. But this was something that had to happen, as our granting software (GIFTS Classic) will no longer be supported by Microedge/Blackbaud by the end of 2018. We are now moving to GIFTS Online (now called Blackbaud Grantmaking), and this time of the year was the most appropriate time to accomplish this feat.

This move, besides being necessary, will offer our applicants and our current grantees a much-improved interface to both apply for a grant as well as accomplish all the requirements of receiving a grant (sending in reports, blog posts, etc). We hope you will bear with us as we improve our entire granting process.

In the meantime, we suggest that you prepare all the required documents as outlined in the detailed application instructions. None of these requirements will change when the new links go live, and these requirements are the bulk of the work when applying for a grant. Once you are able to log in and apply, you will simply fill out the fields and upload these documents. (There are a few fields that go beyond entering contact information. These are outlined in the instructions and application checklist).  We hope to allow at least two weeks for applicants to apply once the system goes live, and we will certainly work with you if you are in the field or otherwise engaged. Simply send us an email (grants at leakeyfoundation.org) to let us know about your situation.

Stay tuned. We will give you a specific date for when the system will go live very soon!


Paddy Moore and H. Gregory
Your Leakey Foundation Grants Department