Cross posted on behalf of Jason Goldman from Scientific American.
Fifty years ago, in the summer of 1960—the same year that a U.S. satellite snapped the first photo of the Earth from space, the same year that the CERN particle accelerator became operational, the same year that the Beatles got their name—a 26-year-old Jane Goodall got on a plane in London and went for the first time to Gombe Stream Game Reserve, in Tanzania. She carried with her only a notebook and some old binoculars. Almost every day since the day Goodall arrived there in July 1960, somebody has been watching the chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) of what is now called Gombe National Park, carefully recording their every movement.
At first, Goodall would situate herself atop a ridge that allowed her an especially wide view of Gombe. She wrote, “I could see my camp in the valley to the south, and the dense forest of the lower Kasekela Valley to the north. I gazed through my binoculars at the chimpanzees feasting on fruits and leaves and began to gather my first impressions of their daily life.” Later, after the chimpanzees became somewhat more accustomed to her presence, she was able to get a bit closer. Rather than assigning each individual chimpanzee a number, as is convention in such anthropological studies, she began to assign them names, like “David Greybeard,” “Goliath,” and “Frodo.”
Conventional or not, Jane Goodall—who earned her Ph.D. in Ethology from Cambridge University despite not having Bachelor’s or Master’s degrees—revolutionized not only the way we understand chimpanzees, but also the way we understand ourselves. Duke University announced today that for the first time, fifty years of observational data from Gombe will be housed in the same location, in digitized format, so that additional researchers will be able to utilize it. Dr. Anne Pusey, chair of Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke, will run the project, which will be known as the Jane Goodall Institute Research Center at Duke.
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Photo by H. Van Lawick.