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Understanding Climate’s Influence on Human Evolution
PROGRAM SUPPORT COMPONENTS
In addition to the core research elements described in the preceding three sections, there are a several research activities that will complement the core elements:
Onsite High-Resolution Scanning
A program that places high-resolution microCT scanners, technicians, and computer systems in selected African museums would resolve many problems related to access to fossil data and provide the basis for a substantial improvement in analytical standards in this field. Specimens could be CT scanned at a resolution commensurate with their size and analytical needs, and slices stored for analysis. A pilot project has already been carried out at the National Museum of Kenya in Nairobi by the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, using a microCT scanner that was temporarily relocated to Nairobi in 2008, and which scanned hominids and a few other primates.
There are several major benefits from scanning as many fossils as possible in this way:
Technicians would no longer have to patiently remove matrix from fossils, they could be better employed scanning and curating specimens. African preparators would develop their skills from those of the 19th to the 21st century by learning scanning, computing, and analytical techniques.
Specimens would never be subjected to preparation damage, which is a relatively common occurrence. Note that there is usually no benefit in scanning after removing matrix. The fossils also would be protected by any overlying matrix so that no damage would be caused in the future by careless handling of fragile prepared specimens. A good example of this approach is provided by studies of Triassic archosaurs that have been scanned and analyzed rather than undergoing damaging preparation (Shipman, 2008).
The slice data, once stored, can be used by individual researchers both in the museum and overseas, obviating the need for expensive travel and giving the researcher time to study fossils at their home institution. Note that this saves airfares and hotel costs that are often a large part of the budget for an overseas museum trip.
Superb analytical programs already exist for extracting quantitative data from stacks of slices. Features such as enamel thickness, details of internal anatomy (e.g., tooth roots, semicircular canals, cochlea, brain case, nerve courses, turbinate bones) can be seen and measured with a mouse click (e.g., visualization and measurement of the cranial cavity of an Oligocene primate, see Simons et al., 2007).
Specimens that have suffered damage during fossilization may be recon-