Into Africa

The Initial Colonization of Africa by Early Cenozoic Anthropoids

Phylogenetic and biostratigraphic data indicate that the oldest and most basal members of the anthropoid clade are fossil taxa known from the Eocene of Asia, mainly China and Myanmar. Understanding how and when these early Asian anthropoids colonized what was then the island continent of Africa is a priority for current research on anthropoid origins. 

The colonization of Africa by early Cenozoic anthropoids hailing from Asia was a pivotal event during primate evolution, because it instigated an evolutionary radiation of African anthropoids that ultimately yielded such familiar extant clade as Cercopithecoidea (Old World monkeys) and Hominoidea (apes and humans). It is also interesting as an important example in the fossil record in which an “invasive taxon” (in this case, anthropoids) impacted an endemic ecosystem. As such, we are interested in documenting the precise timing and nature of the colonization of Africa by anthropoids (e.g., was it monophyletic or polyphyletic?) and how it influenced the native African fauna.

Fieldwork related to this topic at KU is conducted by Chris Beard, KU postdoctoral fellow Pauline Coster, and an international team of collaborators that includes Professor Mustafa Salem from the University of Tripoli (Libya) and Professor Jean-Jacques Jaeger and Dr. Yaowalak Chaimanee from the University of Poitier (France). Current fieldwork occurs at Eocene and Oligocene sites in the Sirte Basin of central Libya.


  • Chris Beard

Funding Source

  • National Science Foundation Biological Anthropology Program