The research to be conducted in the Fayum area of northern Egypt is part of an ongoing, international collaborative paleontological project that involves American and Egyptian scientists. The Fayum area is world-famous for its vertebrate fossils, which range in age from about 37 to 29 million years of age, and for its unique capacity to document the evolution and adaptation of our early anthropoid primate ancestors during a critical phase in mammalian evolutionary history, the early Oligocene period of climatic cooling. Included among the remarkable ~8 million-year-long interval preserved in the Fayum record are the most complete remains of Paleogene anthropoids, the oldest undoubted anthropoids from Africa, and the oldest known relatives of strepsirrhine primates such as lemurs and lorises. The information that has been revealed by such complete fossils has given scientists unparalleled insights into early anthropoid biology, ecology, and phylogeny.
Over the course of three years of fieldwork, the team of American and Egyptian vertebrate paleontologists, paleobotanists, and geochemists will collect additional vertebrate and plant fossils, and sample for paleoclimatic data (stable isotopes) throughout the Fayum succession. These data will be employed to test various hypotheses relating to the evolution and biogeography of primates and non-primate mammals during the later Paleogene, as well as the evolutionary response of African plant and animal communities to local environmental changes deriving from a significant period of global climate change. The questions to be addressed are of broad paleoanthropological and paleontological significance, and include the core specific aims of 1) the illumination of early anthropoid evolutionary history in Africa and documentation of the mammalian communities and environments in which our early anthropoid ancestors lived; and 2) analysis of the responses of vertebrates and plants to the climatic alterations known to have occurred near the Eocene-Oligocene boundary.
The conduct of the research will support the continued development of an American-Egyptian scientific collaboration that will train several graduate students and early career scientists from the US and Egypt. Student training will be integral to all phases of the research, and will maintain a strong tradition of incorporating students from underrepresented groups in science. The specimens and databases to be obtained will be readily shared and accessed, enhancing research and educational infrastructure well into the future.