The Fall Grant Deadline Approaches!

by H. Gregory

Paddy and H., The Leakey Foundation’s grants department, on the St. Charles Streetcar during the 2017 AAPA conference.

As most of you grant seekers are aware, the deadline to apply for a Leakey Foundation Research Grant in our fall 2017 cycle is July 15th. Because this date falls on a weekend, the deadline will shift to end of day on the 17th.

Our grants department is already receiving plenty of inquiries and quite a few letters of recommendation for our PhD candidate applicants, so I know 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.

  • Yes, something has changed this year. We now have a two page limit for appendices, supplemental attachments, and figures and tables combined. We began strictly enforcing the limit during our spring 2017 cycle. I highly recommend abiding by this limit. There are reviewers who may disregard extra pages if submitted.
  • Pay close attention to your budget. As the instructions state, we do not fund things such as equipment, trips to conferences, publishing fees, 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.
  • Please make sure you provide the correct financial contact and your organization’s “legal name” (who the check would be made out to if you are awarded). Errors in this information can and will delay payment, which can be problematic if your project start date is sooner rather than later. Also, please inquire if your institution uses a foundation to administer awards.
  • 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.
  • If after submitting you believe you made an error in your proposal and would like to correct it, please contact us. We understand that can happen!
  • 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 Tuesday morning California time…
  • Some interesting news about how we will begin ranking proposals this cycle. As you may be aware, our decision making process is a little different from say Wenner-Gren or NSF. We utilize peer reviewers (Thank you reviewers!), but all final decisions are made by our Scientific Executive Committee. Starting this cycle, we will be changing our grading system. This change is in hopes that we can better communicate to our applicants whether a resubmission is advised or if the topic of study is simply not a priority for our foundation. Our purview is somewhat specific, and we would prefer to not waste applicants time if the proposal is simply not fundable by us.
  • Just a reminder, Paddy Moore and I do not have any say in who gets funded. We are here to help you and make sure the cycle goes smoothly.
  • We have been expanding our grantee engagement program, and we plan on continuing to do so. Currently, grantees are expected to participate in our outreach efforts by submitting content. You may read about these requirements by clicking here. So please keep in mind that if you are awarded, you will be asked to carve out a few hours to help us in our outreach endeavors. This is a great way for us to share with our donors the amazing research we fund. This also gives our younger grantees an opportunity to practice sharing their work with a general audience. This program has been quite a success, and we have some great ideas in store for the future.

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to email us!

I wish all of you the best of success!

Science Speakeasy – Out of This World: From Caves to Space

Guest blogger Rebecca O’Neill (see bio below) shares her impressions of our May 23rd installment of Science Speakeasy- Out of This World:  From Caves to Space. 

Humans have an uncanny desire to explore the unknown. I think most of us can recall times where we’ve felt that curiosity to see what’s around that next corner or behind that dark door. Some of us follow that urge even further to go where no man (or woman) has been before, which leads them to some extreme situations.

I recently attended the Leakey Foundation’s Science Speakeasy “Out of This World:  From Caves to Space,” where two impressive experts shared their stories from their explorations to uncover truths about science and humanity.

Alia Gurtov on stage at Science Speakeasy

The first speaker, Alia Gurtov, told us about her experience as part of a team of anthropologists who discovered the new species of Hominin Homo naledi. She signed up to the project not knowing quite what she was in for but up for the adventure…

It turned out that the site she would be excavating was deep inside the Rising Star cave in South Africa. It took crawling through “superman’s crawl” (a 10-inch high tunnel), scrambling up the “dragon’s back” (steep ridges with sheer drops on either side) and then dropping down a vertical chute to get to the spot where the bones were buried. Excavating the site not only took patience and delicacy (as all digs do) but also the mental and physical fitness required to work in such an intense location, not least mastery of any claustrophobia.

The hard work paid off and we have Alia and the rest of her team to thank for shedding new light on evolution. Homo naldei is estimated to have existed about 230,000-330,000 years ago. The scientists found 15 specimens (a number that is unheard of in hominin discovery) of a range of ages and both genders, which makes for invaluable information on the new species. It was painstaking work to uncover all the various bones, partly because some of the bones were “mushy, like wood that’s been floating in water.” Alia and the team believe Homo naledi practiced intentional deposition (i.e. the bodies were thrown down the chute as a form of burial), which makes the cave even more enigmatic.

Ariel Waldman on stage at Science Speakeasy

The second speaker of the evening, Ariel Waldman, took us the opposite direction – instead of deep inside the Earth, she flew us out to outer space. As a council member of NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts, she is passionate about stretching the realm of possibility when it comes to space.

Humans are applying our large brains that have served us so well in our evolution to learn about what’s beyond our own planet. Ariel pointed out that NASA is actually just a bunch of “space hackers” – they are figuring it out as they go. There are increasingly interdisciplinary efforts going on to better understand supernovas, what life could look like on other planets and many other facets of what space has to offer us.

As I reflected on the essence of what both speakers had shared, I realized that, ultimately, humans have benefited hugely from our desire to explore the unknown. Though the urge may put us in danger in some cases, the risk is often worth it for the reward of new knowledge and skills, which enable us to adapt and evolve. The need to fulfill this desire has enabled humans to advance our societies and shows us how much we still have to learn. Long may we follow our urge to explore – it is one of our defining characteristics and the key to our survival in this complex and mysterious world we live in.


Ngogo Chimpanzees on Patrol

Territorial boundary patrolling by chimpanzees is a striking example of group-level cooperation displayed by our closest primate relatives.

Chimpanzees patrol in groups for the same reason wolves hunt in packs, because what they can achieve working together far exceeds the returns of more individualized efforts.

A male chimpanzee named Wilson and his cohort jointly test the boundaries of their group’s region. Photo: Kevin Langergraber

Patrols are conspicuous events that occur when multiple individuals, typically male, travel to the peripheries of their territory and sometimes deep into those of their neighbors. During these incursions, patrollers become hypervigilant and behave in other ways that suggest they are actively searching for neighbors. If the patrolling males find members of a rival group, they will attack and sometimes even kill them.

Unlike other animals, who will fight when groups happen to meet at the edges of their territories, male chimpanzees seem to deliberately search for neighbors while on patrols, potentially putting themselves in harm’s way for uncertain gains.

So why do male chimpanzees choose to patrol when such forays may lead to violent, even lethal, encounters with members of neighboring groups? Patrols may benefit everyone by increasing the size of the territory and the food supply, but individuals also have the option to shirk patrol duty since unhelpful members are not punished or ostracized.

To determine how male chimpanzees manage to achieve and maintain this remarkable form of cooperation, researchers — led by Leakey Foundation Grantee Kevin Langergraber of Arizona State University’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change and Institute of Human Origins — examined twenty years of data on who participated in patrols in a 200-member-strong Ngogo community of chimpanzees within Kibale National Park, Uganda. The results of this study are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

By combining analyses of patrol participation with results of paternity testing on 122 group offspring, Langergraber and colleagues found that, over the long run, patrolling paid off because it increased group size, which is important in determining success in competition against other groups.

“The Ngogo chimpanzees patrol and kill neighbors more frequently than any other chimpanzee group,” says John Mitani of The Leakey Foundation’s Scientific Executive Committee. Mitani has studied the Ngogo chimpanzees for 22 years.

By 2009, the group expanded the size of their territory by 22 percent over the previous decade after killing 13 individuals from a neighboring group. Because of their success in competition against other groups, the Ngogo chimpanzees benefit from an unusually good food supply and long life expectancies.

But patrolling is a potentially dangerous as well as energy-sapping activity, and time spent patrolling is time that cannot be spent eating or mating with females in the safety of the territory. The study showed that males varied in how often they patrolled, and it was no surprise that high-ranking individuals, who were likely to be in good physical condition, participated frequently.

In addition, males who had more offspring living in the group, and thus more to gain by territorial expansion, patrolled often. However, not all patrolling events could be explained by such short-term benefits, as many males patrolled when they had no offspring or other relatives living in the group to protect.

Why should males pay the costs of patrolling to benefit the relatives of other individuals? In this large group, reproduction was not monopolized by a few high-ranking males. Males who patrolled when they had no offspring were thus very likely to reproduce in the future.

So even if a male has nothing to gain by protecting relatives now, by patrolling and thereby protecting and increasing the size of the group, he can gain in the long run.

“We know that humans have means ranging from gossip to drastic punishment to aid cooperation in group settings,” Langergraber says. “The puzzle has been to explain cooperation in animal societies, where shirking would seem an attractive option.”

Most studies have focused on short-term benefits of cooperation, he adds, “but our study shows the benefit of long-term data collection, and also that we still have a lot to learn from these chimpanzees.”

Materials provided by Arizona State University.

From the Field: Marie-Hélène Moncel, Italy

Marie-Hélène Moncel 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 trench and whole sequence

The main goal of this project is to focus on the technological and subsistence behaviors of hominids at 700-650 ka (700,000-650,000 years ago) in Southern Europe in their environmental contexts, and to compare them to behaviors in the north of Europe, where occupations are considered to be episodic before 500 ka due to climatic constraints. The climatic data from Southern Europe attest to mild conditions, and more continuous occupations are observed, which may possibly be explained in some areas by the presence of rich volcanic territories.

The site of Notarchirico is in the region of Venosa in the Basilicata in southern Italy. This site presents an exceptional complex of sedimentary-volcanic deposits with several very well-conserved human occupation levels. Most of the deposits of the site are linked to the activity of the Monte Vulture stratovolcano and comprise seven archaeological levels with rich faunal and lithic remains, including some bifaces. A human femur attributed to Homo heidelbergensis was discovered in one of the upper levels of the sequence dated by 40Ar/39Ar, TL, ESR and ESR/U-Th (dating methods) between 610 and 675 ka. These results are consistent with results from faunal and macrofaunal studies, placing the sequence in the Ponte Galeria phase (Galerian, beginning of the Middle Pleistocene).

Marie-Hélène Moncel near the Elephas antiquus bone

The bottom of the sequence of the site is securely dated to more than 670 ka. But evidence from the oldest layers is still limited to former small test pits, and no dates are available for these levels. This site is a key site, yielding the earliest evidence of bifacial technology in Italy and a rich lithic and bone assemblage. The onset of bifacial technology occurred in Europe during the key time period of 800-500 ka, associated with some behavioral changes possibly related to Homo heidelbergensis dispersals.

Last summer, we re-opened excavations at Notarchirico site with an international and multidisciplinary team in order to enhance our understanding of the earliest Italian evidence of bifacial technology but also to characterize hominin behaviour in Southern Europe at 700 ka regarding raw material procurement, subsistence strategies and core technologies.

Bed of pebbles (level I2)

The team comprises researchers from the Département de Préhistoire, CNRS, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, CEA Saclay, LSCE, Université de Bordeaux 1, Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier (France); Università degli Studi di Ferrara; Universitià di Roma “La Sapienza”, Universitià di Bologna (Italie) and Kenyon College (USA).

The fieldwork season focused on a sector located outside the building protecting the former excavations directed by Marcello Piperno. In the past, limited sampling in this sector had episodically identified the presence of older stratigraphic and archaeological units than unit F (670 ka by 40Ar/39Ar).

4 Level I2. Bones and artefacts

During one month, a 30-m long trench by 2 m wide was opened on the side of the hill, several metres from the building (Figure 1). The present day superficial soil cover (with a thickness of 30 to 50 cm) was stripped with a mini excavator, enabling rapid access to the in situ stratigraphic units, truncated by the erosion slope.

At the top of the trench, layers F and F1 (black volcanic sands), the last layers exposed by the M. Piperno excavations, were identified and used as a stratigraphic marker for the identification of the underlying units.

Bones of level 12

Below these two layers, four major units were observed and numbered G, H, I and J, each of which can be divided into sublevels: level G (G and G1), level H (H1a, b, c, H2a, b, c), level I (I1a, b, c; I2, I2a, b, c, d) and level J (J1, J2). The characteristics of levels G and I are similar to those observed in former surveys. However, level J at the base had not been previously identified.

Fieldwork focused on the oldest units H, I and J. They all contained paleontological and/or archaeological material in the test zones. For example, a whole Elephas antiquus humerus was uncovered in layer H1 (Figure 2). The top of layer H2 contained a residual pocket of small pebbles with lithics and bones. The oldest level, level J, also contained lithic material (pocket of sand not in primary position?).

Bone and flint core of level 11

The unit with the most material is layer I and an excavation was initiated in this level. It contains a bed of large pebbles (I2), covered with a bed of small pebbles (I2a) and a level of fine orange-coloured sediments. All these subunits contained abundant lithic and bone material. The bed of pebbles (I2) presents the most material and is a fluvio-lacustrine unit with traces of human occupation (Figure 3). Excavations were set up over a surface of 14 m² (units H, I and J), including 8 m² for level I2.

In the current state of knowledge, the following species have been identified: Elephas antiquus, Bison, Megaceros, Cervids, small bovids, birds … (Figures 4, 5, 6). Microfauna and sediment samples for malacofaunal studies were recovered through the systematic sieving of sediments. The study mission of this material, scheduled for December, will lead to more precise species identification and identify any possible anthropogenic marks. More than 200 lithic objects were recorded in level I, associated with the faunal material. They consist of discoid-type cores, flakes, tools (denticulates, sidescrapers) on small flint nodules (Figures 6, 7). In order to carry out microwear studies and residue analysis, the lithic material was not washed. Several objects on limestone pebbles were also recorded.

Flint core of level 1

The use of new methodologies and interrogations at Notarchirico on recently excavated material (such as microwear studies, for example) should provide information on thebehaviorr of these hominids in Southern Europe at 700 ka, including raw material management, methods of toolkit manufacture, tool functions and subsistence strategies.

We began prospection in a 3-km perimeter around the site and collected flint nodules as well as various types and shapes of pebbles from dismantled Pleistocene formations. Comparisons are underway in order to identify locally available mineral resources for hominids and to determine whether they collected them from the vicinity of the occupations or whether these nodules were available around the lake, like at most European sites from the 700-600 ka period.

Samples from the new excavation were collected for dating (40Ar/39Ar, ESR, ESR/U-series, TL), but also for mollusc and pollen studies in order to characterize the climatic context. Considering the types of deposits, this context could correspond to MIS 17.

Petrographic and techno-typological studies of the lithic artefacts, as well as the paleontological and archaeozoological study of the faunal remains are in progress. A microwear study will also be carried out on the lithic and bone material from the excavation, as well as the renewed study of the material from the former excavations by M. Piperno (University of Rome), including the hominid femur.



Introducing Our Spring 2017 Baldwin Fellows

Franklin Mosher Baldwin Memorial Fellowships are awarded to graduate students who are from developing countries and would like to pursue training and/or education abroad. In providing this opportunity The Leakey Foundation hopes to equip these scholars with the knowledge and experience necessary to assume leadership positions in their home countries where there often exist extraordinary resources in the field of prehistory.

The Baldwin Fellowship was established in 1978, and its track record speaks for itself. Baldwin Fellows such as Zeresenay Alemseged, Berhane Asfew, Mzalendo Kibunjia, Jackson Njau, Agazi Negash, Emma Mbua and Fredrick Manthi (to name only a few) have gone on to productive and influential careers in the fields of paleoanthropology and primatology.

Here are the three returning Baldwin Fellows for our spring 2017 cycle:

Kennedy Oginga

Kennedy Oginga (Kenya)

Mr. Oginga has a BS degree in analytical chemistry from Kenyatta University. He has been accepted into the master’s program in the Department of Geology under the sponsorship of Daniel Peppe. Last year he was nominated for a 3-month training at Turkana Basin Institute. At TBI he studied human evolution, archaeology, ecology, paleontology and geology. At Baylor his research will focus on using paleosols to reconstruct the paleoenvironment of early Miocene sites in Western Kenya.  He will present his work on the paleoclimate and paleoenvironment of an early Miocene site in Kenya (Koru) at the poster session at the AAPA this month in New Orleans.

Vidrige Kandza (Republic of Congo)

Mr. Kandza is in the master’s program at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig. He has been working under the supervision of Karline Janmaat to pursue his research on food selection of the Mbendjele Yaka children foraging in a tropical rainforest. He intends to continue his studies as a PhD candidate and return to teach at the new Science University in Brazzaville.

Terry Mwanache (Tanzania)

Terry Mwanache

Ms. Mwanache has a BA in archaeology and heritage management from University of Dar es Salaam. She has been accepted into the Master’s program at Colorado State University sponsored by Michael Pante. She has worked as a field and lab assistant with the Olduvai Geochronology and Archeology Project and hopes to use the zooarchaeological and paleontological record of Olduvai to broaden our understanding of the evolution of the Pleistocene landscape and its influence on hominin behavior and evolution. At CSU this past year she acquired laboratory experience in bone identification and analysis, recording and documenting of archaeological materials, which she plans to apply to the conservation and preservation of archaeological materials through job opportunities in the Ministry of Antiquities in Tanzania. She expects to receive her Master’s degree this year.


Here are the four new spring 2017 Baldwin Fellows

Tengenu Gossa Aredo (Ethiopia)

Mr. Aredo has a Master’s degree in archaeology from Addis Ababa University. He is currently enrolled in a PhD program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem under the supervision of Erella Hovers. He has been working at the early Acheulian site of Melka Wakena in Ethiopia in an attempt to understand  behavioral patterns of the toolmakers.  After completion of his studies, he plans to return to Ethiopia to either teach in a university or work with ARCCH to promote and conserve the Ethiopia’s paleoarcheological heritage.

Alexander Titan Kabelindde (Tanzania)

Mr. Kabelindde has been accepted in the PhD program in archaeology at University College of London. He has been working at Olduvai Gorge under the supervision of his advisor, Ignacio de la Torre and Jackson Njau. At Olduvai he hopes to shed light on the technological behavior of Homo erectus not only by participating in new fieldwork but also by analyzing the lithic assemblages from Beds III/IV. Upon completion of his degree, he plans to continue research in Archaeology in Tanzania

Himani Nautiyal (India)

Ms. Nautiyal is enrolled in a PhD  program at Kyoto University’s Primate Research Institute under the supervision of Michael Huffman. Her fieldwork is with a little studied species of Central Himalayan langurs living in a remote, high altitude Himalayan valley in northern India. Her focus is on male reproductive strategies and on the importance of female mate choice in influencing male reproductive success. She was awarded a National Geographic Young Explorer Grant in 2016.

Negin Valizadegan (Iran)

Ms. Valizadegan is a second year doctoral student in Biological Anthropology at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her advisor is Jessica Brinkworth. The focus of Ms. Valizadegan’s research is the evolution of immune systems and microbe-host interactions in primates. She is interested in the interactions between beneficial microbes and their hosts to see how these interactions have led to adaptations between primates and their microbiota.  Her goal is to become a university professor in Iran.