Fossil Research


DFP fieldwork has taken place in Egypt for over 30 years and plans are in place to continue this work into the future. The near-shore marine and continental sediments in the Fayum area span the middle Eocene through early Oligocene and contain a large diversity of primates including over 20 species of early anthropoids as well as 12+ species of other primates including some of the earliest records of strepsirhines (living lemurs and lorises) in Africa. Besides primates, the Fayum mammal collections at DFP include marsupials, bats (at least 11 species), ancient carnivores (20+ species), hyraxes (20+ species), elephant shrews, rodents (10+ species), proboscideans, sirenians and whales, as well as a number of enigmatic groups that are found nowhere else in the world. Including non-mammalian species, the DFP Fayum collection consists of nearly 20,000 specimens. In addition to the Fayum collections, DFP also houses the only collection outside of Cairo of fossil vertebrates from Wadi Moghra, an important 19 million year old locality near El Alamein in northern Egypt. The vertebrates from Moghra are among the first records available for the new wave of immigrants (perissodactyls, artiodactyls, carnivores) from Eurasia that entered Africa at the beginning of the Miocene. Systematic, functional, biostratigraphic, paleoclimatic and biogeographic studies of these large collections are on-going.


The DFP Madagascar project has been ongoing since the late 1980’s. Subfossil (500 to 10,000 year old) specimens of primates and other vertebrates are collected from caves in limestone karst regions and from swamp deposits at a variety of sites across the island. Work carried out so far has led to recovery of some of the most complete skeletons known for many of the giant extinct lemurs. Nearly 2000 specimens from Madagascar are housed at DFP and plans are being made to re-initiate field work in southwestern Madagascar in 2015. DFP research is focused on extinction of subfossil mega- and micro-fauna, documentation of evolving habitats across space and time, functional studies of extinct giant lemurs, and ancient DNA and isotopic analyses of extinct as well as subfossil representative of extant species – all aimed at understanding the dynamic changes that have occurred across Madagascar since the arrival of humans 2500 years ago and what changes can be expected in the future based on past patterns.


DFP fieldwork in Wyoming has been ongoing since the 1980’s and continues to be carried out each summer in conjunction with the Evolutionary Anthropology and Biology Departments at Duke. The DFP Wyoming collections include over 5000 specimens and represent a variety of fossil vertebrates from a time span of over 7 million years (55 through 48 million years ago). These specimens help to document the initial arrival of modern groups of mammals (primates, perissodactyls, artiodactyls, rodents, carnivores) in North America and the subsequent diversification of these groups. Focal studies include systematics, biogeography, biostratigraphy, functional morphology, landscape/habitat analysis, and faunal analysis.

Other Field Work

In addition to the main field areas in Wyoming, Egypt and Madagascar, DFP researchers have explored India in the past in search of Eocene and Miocene deposits. Two new field initiatives are underway now that will expand the focus of research to include SE Asia and other parts of Africa. One project focuses on Indonesia where DFP researchers and colleagues have discovered the first pre-Pleistocene vertebrates ever found in Oceanic Asia (Sumatra) – field work will continue in Sumatra and Kalimantan in 2014. A second, new project that is just beginning will lead DFP researchers and colleagues from Belgium to the Democratic Republic of Congo where we will explore Paleocene and Eocene deposits in search of fossil vertebrates. The long legacy of fieldwork and specimen based research started by previous DFP Director Elwyn L. Simons is and will continue into the future.






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