University anthropologist Kieran McNulty will travel to Kenya’s Rusinga Island to head up an excavation at an Early Miocene site to document the origin of apes.
Out of Kenya: Field blog to document U of M anthropologists' study of one of the world's oldest and richest fossil ape sites
University of Minnesota associate anthropology professor Kieran McNulty will travel to Kenya’s Rusinga Island June 12 through mid-July to head up an excavation at an Early Miocene site to document the origin of apes. The Early Miocene is a geological period that extends from about 23 to 16 million years go.
Joined by co-project leaders from the University of Rhode Island, Lehman College, Baylor University and Germany’s Senckenberg Research Institute, the work is a research partnership with the National Museums of Kenya. A blog, available at http://amnh.org/news and coordinated by Will Harcourt-Smith of the American Museum of Natural History, will document the team’s various daily activities.
“Our work is focused on understanding the evolution and adaptations of the earliest fossil apes,” McNulty says. “Rusinga Island is the richest fossil site in the world that documents these early apes, and the fossils date to a span of time between 17 to 20 million years ago.”
Rusinga Island was made famous by archaeologists and anthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey when they discovered the fossil ape Proconsul there in 1948.
Five species of apes and/or catarrhine primates are now known: Proconsul nyanzae; Proconsul heseloni; Dendropithecus macinnesi; Limnopithecus legetet; Nyanzapithecus vancouveringorum. In addition, there are now 95 species of extinct mammals known from Rusinga, plus other fossil vertebrates (reptiles, amphibians and fishes), invertebrates (fossil insects and gastropods), and even fossil plants (leaves, fruits, nuts and trees).
“This means that we have an abundance of material from which we can try to understand the ecological background within which early apes evolved and diversified,” McNulty says.
Other University of Minnesota researchers involved in this summer’s research are David Fox, associate professor in the College of Science and Engineering’s geology and geophysics department, and anthropology graduate students Kirsten Jenkins and Nicole Garrett.