Paleo Primate Project
Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, represents the last unstudied link in the great African Rift that runs across eastern Africa, wherein lie the “cradles of humankind”. Preliminary research conducted in 2016 confirms that the Gorongosa Rift Valley bears new fossil sites, and provides astounding ecological diversity as a setting within which to investigate primate evolution, both past and present. The project’s components seek to shed light into the origins and evolutionary success of the human lineage. This is the first project in human evolution where primatologists, palaeontologists, geologists, archaeologists and ecologists work daily side-by- side, collecting data that converge on an over-arching goal.
The Paleo-Primate Project is led by Dr Susana Carvalho, Associate Professor of Palaeoanthropology, at the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, where she coordinates the Primate Models for Behavioural Evolution Lab, at the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology.
Dr Carvalho is leading an international, interdisciplinary team of distinguished scholars from the fields of geology, speleology, palaeontology, palaeobotany, archaeology, primatology, genetics and conservation biology. The research group represents institutions from seven countries (Mozambique, UK, Portugal, Germany, USA, South Africa, and Chile). Already, in their preliminary investigations, they have discovered the first Miocene mammal fossils of the Rift Valley of Mozambique, inside Gorongosa National Park.
Dr Carvalho and her team have identified multiple promising fossil sites in Gorongosa Park and they've embarked on what could be a multi-decade exploration and research endeavour that might yield new insights about when and how our earliest human ancestors evolved in Africa. The team is also focusing on the unique modern ecology of the park to develop a better understanding of the environments where early humans evolved. Another powerful branch of this unique multidisciplinary project is the focus on studying modern primates, and their behavioural adaptations to the Gorongosa ecology, to model how, in the past, our human ancestors may have succeeded living in similar habitats. The University of Oxford currently has six doctoral students and one post-doctoral researcher – on prestigious scholarships/fellowships, including the University of Oxford Clarendon Fund, ESRC, AHRC, and the Leverhulme Trust – carrying out the first primatological projects with the baboons and vervet monkeys of Gorongosa.
In 2018, the Oxford-Gorongosa Paleo-Primate Field-School had its first official trial. This is currently the only field-school in the African continent providing interdisciplinary training in Paleoanthropology, Primatology and Ecology. 50% of the students are selected from Mozambican Universities across the country. Dr Carvalho is currently supervising two undergraduate students from Mozambique who wish to pursue primatology and paleoanthropology.