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Paleo Primate Project

Paleo Primate Project Gorongosa

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 confirmed 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 on 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.
 
 
 
Dr Carvalho and her team have identified multiple promising fossil sites in Gorongosa Park and they have 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. Their projects focus on diverse topics from the evolution of culture, to the effect of predation pressure on primate adaptations and decision making, as well as communication and leave-taking behaviour.
 
 
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 have 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. Their projects focus on diverse topics from the evolution of culture, to the effect of predation pressure on primate adaptations and decision making, as well as communication and leave-taking behaviour.
 
 
In 2018, the Paleo-Primate Project officially launched the Oxford-Gorongosa Paleo-Primate Field-School. This is currently the only field school in the African continent providing interdisciplinary training in Paleoanthropology, Primatology and Ecology. The field school runs annually and 50% of the students are selected from Mozambican Universities across the country. Past field school students have gone on to complete undergraduate dissertations using data they collected during their time in Gorongosa National Park, including a Mozambican student who studied object manipulation and play behaviour among the baboons of Gorongosa who is now working towards a postgraduate degree in primatology. Dr Carvalho is currently supervising four Mozambican students who wish to pursue research in primatology and paleoanthropology.
 
For more information about research opportunities, please contact Dr Susana Carvalho, [email protected]