Palaeoanthropologist Alan Cyril Walker (1938 – 2017)

CaptureAlan Cyril Walker (born August 23, 1938) died on November 20, 2017, of pancreatic cancer. He was a world-renowned paleoanthropologist and the recipient of numerous awards for his extraordinary scientific achievements, including a “genius” award from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and lifetime awards such as the Charles R. Darwin Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Association of Physical Anthropologists and the Leighton Wilkie prize of the Center for Research into the Anthropological Foundations of Technology (CRAFT) and the Stone Age Institute, Indiana University, and the International Fondation Fyssen Prize in Paris. He was one of the only scholars in the world elected to the Royal Academy (U.K.) as well as the United States National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Dr. Walker was born in Leicester, England, the second of four sons of Cyril Walker, a carpenter, and Edith Tidd Walker, a housewife. He was preceded in death by his parents, his first wife Patricia Nicholson, and a younger brother, Gerald Walker. He is survived and mourned by his elder brother, J. Trevor Walker and his younger brother Michael D. Walker, both of whom livie in England, his loving second wife of 42 years, anthropologist and author Pat Shipman, of Moncure, N.C. , his son Simon B. Walker, and his son’s wife Shellene Wellnitz Walker, and his granddaughters Bryn and Meghan Walker of Morrisville, N. C. In addition, he is remembered fondly by many of his former students and colleagues in several countries.

Alan Walker earned an undergraduate degree with honors in the Natural Sciences (Geology, Zoology, Mineralogy, Petrology, and Palaeontology). Following his childhood fascination with animals and fossils, Walker obtained a grant to attend the University of London, earning a Ph.D. in Anatomy and Palaeontology under the mentorship of John Napier. His thesis topic was a study of the functional anatomy and behavior of living and fossil lemurs of Madagascar. His work had a major influence on the field, emphasizing deducing the behaviors of extinct species from living ones to paleontology. He later received an honorary D.Sc. from the University of Chicago.

For much of his career, Dr. Walker was a brilliant teacher of human gross anatomy, training thousands of future physicians. Institutions where he worked included the Royal Free Hospital, School of Medicine, London (19165), Makerere University College, Kampala, Uganda (1965-1969), the University of Nairobi Medical School, Kenya (1969-1974), Harvard Medical School (1973-1978), and The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (1978-1995). In 1995 he moved to The Pennsylvania State University to teach anatomy and biology to undergraduate and graduate students, retiring in 2010 as an Evan Pugh Professor of Anthropology & Biology.
Throughout his academic career, Alan Walker was known for his kindness and generosity to students, for the tremendous breadth of his interests and knowledge, and for pioneering new approaches to evolutionary problems. He was instrumental in developing the field of dental microwear to deduce diets of extinct species and was among the first to the study of the structure of the inner ear of fossils to understand their patterns of locomotion and movement of extinct animals.
He was also known for his collaborations in finding fossils with Richard and Meave Leakey in Kenya. One of their most important discoveries was the finding, excavation, and analysis of the most complete ever skeleton of Homo erectus from Nariokotome, Kenya. This skeleton revealed the startlingly tall and lanky stature of a youngster of the species that first migrated out of the African continent. His research also had a major impact on the study of fossil apes, following his discovery of thousands of bones of several extinct apelike creatures on Rusinga and Mfwangano Islands in Lake Victoria, Kenya.

In accordance with his wishes, there will be no funeral or memorial services. Condolences may be sent to his wife, Dr. Pat Shipman, at 3140 Chatham Church Road., Moncure NC 27559 or ( In lieu of flowers, friends and family in the U.S. may send donations to St John’s College, Cambridge, at or, in the U.K., to


Palaeoprimatologist Elwyn Simons Has Died

On the 6th of March 2016, the accomplished palaeoprimatologist Elwyn Simons passed away in his sleep at the age of 85. It is difficult to overstate this man’s contribution to our understanding of the evolution of Primates. He directed over 90 palaeontological expeditions between 1961 and 2012 which produced over 300 books and peer-reviewed journal articles. As Gregg Gunnell of the Duke Lemur Center noted “I don’t know of anyone in the last half century who has influenced the field as much as he has”.

Elwyn LaVerne Simons was born on the 14th of July 1930 in Lawrence City, Kansas. From William Marsh Rice University, Houstan, Texas, he earned his bachelors degree before moving onto Princeton and Oxford for his doctoral degrees. Prior to joining Duke University in North Carolina, he spent 17 years at Yale University as a professor.

You cannot talk about Elwyn Simons and not mention his work in Egypt. For more than 40 years, Simons and co-director Prithijit Charath organised expeditions to a low basin of desert, south west of Cairo – The Fayum Depression. In Passionate Minds: The Inner World of ScientistsSimons had this to say:

“It’s fun to find fossils because you never know what your’re going to find and there’s always a chance that you’ll find something quite unusual, and that kind of excitement makes it sort of like a treasure hunt”

Fayum Depression

Friderun Ankel-Simons of the Duke Primate Center, recalled the many years of working with her husband. The expeditions were very challenging with all obstacles put in their way from vehicles getting stuck in the sand or mud and running out of diesel on many different occassions. These were sharply contrasted with the good times out in the field, camping beneath the stars in the desert, hearing the desert fox calling or arguing lemurs nearby. He was a very active man, depriving himself of sleep countless times. Daniel Gebo of the Northern Illinois University remembers one time he was conversing with Elywn and out of the blue he said “I have to take a nap NOW” and would simply fall asleep, leaving Daniel wondering what to do about what they were talking about.

Elwyn had the power to captivate an audience, recalled John Fleagle of Stony Brook University. He was an expert storyteller, a model for people who specialise in scientific communication.

Famously, Simons discovered the fossilised remains of an ancient genus of primate – Aegyptopithecus this primate lived in Egypt between 35 to 33 million years ago. It was probably about the same size as South America’s Howler Monkey and remains one of the best known extinct primates from that time. One afternoon, while at an anthropology conference, Simons asked if he could use an empty chair beside a group of anthropologists. “Actually, a friend of ours is just getting a drink”, responded one member of the group. Simons proceed to lift up the chair and say “Yes? Well I discovered Aegyptopithecus


After joining Duke University in 1977, Simons first task was to take an ailing Primate Center and make it an essential breeding programme for wild Lemurs. With populations dwindling on Madagascar, the Malagasy government permitted Simons to capture wild lemurs, relocating them to North Carolina, where he could diversify the gene pool of species. This in his own word created “a second line of defense against extinction”. His passion for the work he was doing, was plain to see in the cradling and hand-feeding of premature newborn lemurs. Thanks to Simons, Duke Primate Center now has the most diverse collection of captive lemurs ouside of Madagascar with hundred of individuals representing over 20 species. The breeding programme allowed Simons to reintroduce lemurs to the wild.

Elywn Simons will forever be remembered for shedding light on primate evolution in the Oligocene of Egypt and helping prevent the extinction of Madagascar’s Lemurs. Simons is survived by his wife of more than 40 years, Friderun Ankel-Simons; a brother, Herbert Simons; three children, D. Brenton Simons, Cornelia Seiffert and Verne Simons; and two grandchildren, Eleanor and William Simons.



Right: Elwyn Simons cares for an Aye-Aye. Left: An Aye-Aye scoping out its next meal.

Do check out the “Adopt A Lemur” Project, which helps support the great work done at the Duke Primate Center.

The Zika Virus Conspiracy Theory Finally Slammed!

Search Zika Virus, you will begin to see posts about GM Mosquitos linked to the virus. Here I want to put together articles on why this will remain nothing more than a conspiracy hypothesis.
Dr. Christie Wilcox had this to say about the conspiracy hypothesis that the Zika Virus outbreak co-incided with the release of the genetically engineered Aedes aegypti in Brazil:
“The mistake was made initially by the Redditor who proposed the conspiracy theory and has been propagated through lazy journalistic practices by every proponent since. Here’s a quick tip: if you’re basing your conspiracy theory on location coincidence, it’s probably a good idea to actually get the location right.”
Wilcox has a PhD in venomology from the University of Hawai at Manoa and has significantly more experience on the subject than any of the journalists touting the conspiracy theory foating out there, which is now devastatingly riding the crest of disease outbreak hysteria.
Check out the complete article below.
Business Insider was the first to report the Virus-GM Mosquito concoction as nothing more than a rumour. They noted that:
“……….the disease has been around longer than the genetically engineered mosquitoes: Zika was originally found in Uganda in 1947. The GM mosquito project started in 2015. Aside from that fact, the outbreak would be spreading regardless of whether or not GM mosquitos were present. “There’s no evidence that genetically modified mosquitos have a role, but we wouldn’t need the [insects] to have an outbreak,” said Dr. Andrew Pavia, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of Utah Health Care. And Aedes aegypti are also spreading the disease plenty of areas where the genetically modified mosquitos have not been introduced.”
Arvind Suresh MA shone some much needed light on the company at the heart of the A. aegypti genetic engineering project:
“Oxitec, the company behind the trials, are attempting to reduce the population of the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes which are the major vectors for carrying mosquito borne diseases like dengue, chikungunya and Zika by creating genetically engineering sterile males. The trials that have been conducted in the past few years have proved so successful that the city of Piracicaba recently entered into an agreement with Oxitec to expand its efforts and build a larger facility.”
Forbes also weighed in with a comprehensive article on the Zika Virus.
“With the explosive spread of Zika through Latin America, and realization that the virus will spread in the U.S., more attention has been focused on Oxitec mosquitoes. There has been hysteria and misinformation in the press about “mutant” mosquitoes being unleashed causing the end of the world, so I want to counter misconceptions and debunk conspiracy theorists.”

Mosquito Wars Update: Would You Choose GMO ‘Mutants,’ Pesticides Or Dengue And Zika Viruses?

So, for every article that demonstrates the Virus-GM Mosquito link is unsubstantiated, there are 1 billion articles that peddle this trite. As Michael Jackson once cried out:

“Just because you read it in a magazine,

you see it on a TV screen,

it don’t make it factual”

Discovery of the Paranthropus of Peninj

This evening on the 11th of January 1964, fossil hunter Kamoya Kimeu (1940-Present) was crossing what had been an Early Pleistocene delta to the western side of Lake Natron, Arusha, Tanzania. He was there with a team led by Richard Leakey in search of our earliest ancestors. Barely a few days into the expedition, Kimeu found a hominin mandible, not one of our ancestors, but just an intriguing. It is 1964 and by this time, OH 5, representative of Paranthropus boisei was already gracing the covers of magazines throughout the world. Thought to be the first human that used stone tools for the first time, the Nutcracker Man was not all he was cracked up to be. As more hominin fossils from the Late Pliocene and early Pleistocene began to show, it became more and more clear, that while P. boisei may have been found on an archaeological layer, this is not enough evidence to support a “he’s the first human” hypothesis.


Ol Doinyo Lengai: A View from Lake Natron

Kimeu had found another representative of P. boisei at Peninj and it was a remarkably complete hominin mandible. The right condyle was missing and so too were the left and right coronoid processes, despite that the fossil had its complete set of teeth and that was particularly key. The teeth showed a great deal of wear  to the point that you could see the dentine beneath the enamel. This individual must have eaten alot of sedges and grasses throughout its life to give that sort of result. Grasses and sedges that you could find around deltas like that one that would have entered Lake Natron, when it wasn’t quite as salty. But when exactly did our hominin friend give up its spirit along the shores of the Lake. The stratigraphic layers in the region are like the pages of a picture book, no words, but pictures that can tell better narratives that Twilight could ever even dream of. The mandible was uncovered in a sedimentary layers, comprising the deltas alluvial deposits, sandwiched between two volcanic layers. The volcanic Tuff atop the layer that contained the fossil was previously dated to between 1.6 and 1.4 million years of age, while the basalt below was dated to 1.7 million years of age. You may think that the fossil is probably going to be between 1.7 and 1.4 million years of age, but the team of geologists at the site conducted further analysis at the site to help get a more accurate result. They settled on an age for the mandible of between 1.5 and 1.3 million years of age. Enough time for the ph of a lake to reach beyond 12.


View of Lake Natron and a superimposed graphic of the hypothetical organisation of the layers around the fossil.

Since the discovery of the Peninj 1 mandible in 1964, another hominin with similar characteristics to P. boisei was found. Paranthropus aethiopicus now joined a trio of hominin species that became the Paranthropines, comprising boisei, robustus (South African hominin) and aethiopicus. Most of what we have collected of these creatures are crania and mandibles, though some postcranial remains have been found. Thankfully the teeth survive well and can tell us a great deal about their diet and the subtle, yet important questions of how they chew their greenery. There was a long drawn out debate over whether these three hominins deserved to live in a separate group – the Paranthropines. Originally, these hominins were classified as robust australopithecines and the palaeoanthropological community decided that a change was needed. The complete anatomy of the Peninj Hominin was never recovered and given that the mandible survived so well, this individual may have fallen to a carnivore in the delta. Below is a summary of the discovery that was made on the 11th of January 1964.

Animalistic Emotion: Rabbit Mourns The Loss Of A Loved One

When we were younger, my brother and I had two pet rabbits. One was an American Albino (Sammie) and the other was a Dutch Rabbit (Beauty). As young boys it was exciting to get two cute rabbits to play with. They were high maintenance, but it was worth it in the end.

In April and May of 1999, Sammie got a serious illness which immobilised his right hind leg. He spent a great deal of his time dragging his body along the grass. My father chanced to take him out of the enclosure, out in the open, so unable to move, was Sammie.

One of the most emotional scenes, I have ever experienced was seeing Beauty desperately try to revive Sammie after his passing. We humans knew right well there was no turning back. Sammie was gone. Beauty died shortly afterwards of a broken heart.

My brother and I never thought of getting another rabbit and this helped make both their deaths all the more emotional.