The Colonization of Africa by Early Anthropoid Primates

Research Team Seminar

March 17–19, 2015

The Colonization of Africa by Early Anthropoid PrimatesThe Colonization of Africa by Early Anthropoid PrimatesChaired by K. Christopher Beard, Foundation Distinguished Professor, Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Kansas, March 17-19, 2015. Photo by William Geoghegan.The Colonization of Africa by Early Anthropoid PrimatesChaired by K. Christopher Beard, Foundation Distinguished Professor, Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Kansas, March 17-19, 2015. Photo by William Geoghegan.

The colonization of Africa by early anthropoid primates was a pivotal event that set the evolutionary stage for the later emergence of apes and humans there. However, not much is known about this event, mainly because of the poor quality of the African fossil record. This seminar brought together scholars from three complementary teams working at sites across North Africa that have yielded the oldest known African anthropoid fossils. Researchers took advantage of the lull in fieldwork due to disruptions caused by events following the Arab Spring to compare pivotal fossils from these disparate localities side-by-side, to discuss and evaluate geological evidence for the ages of the various fossil sites, and to develop a broader consensus on the evolutionary and ecological consequences of the anthropoid colonization of Africa.

Specifically, the goals set were:

  1. To compare evidence bearing on the relative and absolute ages of fossil sites in Africa and Asia that are pertinent to the colonization of Africa by early anthropoids.
  2. To compare fossils and casts of early anthropoids from Africa and Asia in order to understand their evolutionary relationships and geographical patterns.
  3. To determine whether the evolutionary and geographic patterns that characterize the earliest African anthropoids were unique as opposed to being matched by other groups of mammals.
  4. To discuss possible climatic and geographic factors that may have mitigated the colonization of Africa by early anthropoids.

“Overall, the seminar provided a unique opportunity for a small but dedicated group of researchers from many different parts of the world to interact and discuss an exciting, controversial, and timely topic in primate evolution and identify ways to move forward toward a better understanding of primate paleobiogeography,” wrote seminar chair, Chris Beard, in his report to SAR, “Collaborations among many of the participants have been planned, and the fruits of these new endeavors will no doubt be published over the next year or so.”


Publications from members of the seminar are as follows (as of December 2015):

2015. Flegal, John G. “Westward Ho! for Early Anthropoids. Evolutionary Anthropology, 24:41-42


K. Christopher Beard, Chair Foundation Distinguished Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Kansas
Yaowalak Chaimanee Research Scientist, Institut International de Paléoprimatologie, Paléontologie Humaine: Evolution et Paléoenvironnements (IPHEP), Universite de Poitiers
Pauline Coster Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Biodiversity Institute, University of Kansas
John G. Fleagle Distinguished Professor, Department of Anatomical Sciences, Stony Brook University
Gregg F. Gunnell Director, Division of Fossil Primates, Duke Lemur Center, Duke University
Jean-Jacques Jaeger Professor, Institut International de Paléoprimatologie, Paléontologie Humaine: Evolution et Paléoenvironnements (IPHEP), Universite de Poitiers
Alex Licht Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Geosciences, University of Arizona
Laurent Marivaux CNRS Researcher, Institut des Sciences de l'Evolution de Montpellier, Universite de Montpellier II
Gregoire Metais Research Scientist, Department of Paleobiodiversity and Paleoenvironments, National Museum of Natural History, Paris
Hesham Sallam Visiting Scientist, Department of Anatomical Sciences, Stony Brook University
William J. Sanders Senior Research Laboratory Specialist, Museum of Paleontology, University of Michigan

Sponsored by National Science Foundation

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