This project seeks to recover fossil primates and other vertebrates from the Fayum Depression in northern Egypt, an area that contains the only continuous sequence of fossiliferous continental middle-to-late Eocene and early Oligocene (approximately 38 to 32 million-year-old) deposits on the Afro-Arabian landmass. Fossil primates from the Fayum region provide our most detailed documentation of the early evolution of Anthropoidea (the group containing monkeys, apes, and humans) during the time period when the Old World anthropoids (catarrhines) are thought to have diverged from the New World anthropoids (platyrrhines). Recently discovered later middle Eocene fossil localities in the Fayum region have led to the recovery of an entirely new assemblage of basal anthropoids as well as the earliest record of the primate group containing lorises, galagos, and lemurs (the extant or "crown" Strepsirrhini). Recovery of additional, more complete, anthropoid and strepsirrhine fossils from all of the Eocene and Oligocene horizons exposed in the Fayum region will be critical for elucidating the pattern and timing of early primate diversification in Africa and the anatomy and adaptations of the primate group that gave rise to all later living and extinct anthropoids. The field and laboratory work will continue to test hypotheses related to the following issues in early anthropoid and strepsirrhine evolution: 1) pattern and sequence of anatomical character evolution; 2) anatomical diversity and phylogenetic relationships; 3) influence of climate change on locomotor and dietary adaptations; 4) Paleogene primate biogeography, and 5) timing of divergences within major primate lineages. In addition, the team will continue to analyze and describe other mammalian groups that lived alongside these early primates, and will synthesize this information with other geological data to provide a complete picture of the ancient environments represented in the Birket Qarun, Qasr el-Sagha, and Jebel Qatrani Formations. The Fayum primate fossils provide rare glimpses into important stages in primate evolutionary history, and should be of great interest to humanity in general. The broadest impact of this work will come through detailed analysis of these fossils and subsequent dissemination of this information into the public realm. The publicity that will surround the description of new primate fossils from the Fayum region will also help to highlight the utility of paleontological inquiry as a means for demonstrating the reality of the evolutionary processes that shaped our shared history with other primates. Paleontological work in Egypt will allow for the continued field training of young American and Egyptian students interested in paleoanthropology and vertebrate paleontology, and will lead to important scientific collaborations with Egyptian paleontologists working in the Egyptian Geological Survey and Mining Authority and the Egyptian Geological Museum.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Jean E. Turnquist
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Duke University
United States
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