From tiny remains of a tropical Earth 55 million years ago, Chris Beard ' 84 has jolted paleontologists to the possibility that the first higher primates were in Asia, not Africa.
by Paul Gilster
ou would think Chris Beard ' 84 had enough
on his plate. The curator ofvertebrate paleontol-
ogy at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History
in Pittsburgh is
in the midst of
Beard calls it "the
ever done," a $35
rnillion tripling of
galleries, which already
include legendary creatures such as Tyrannosaurus Rex
and Diplodocus. Each huge skeleton is being disassem-
bled. Bones that can weigh up to several tons each are
being cleaned and restored to realistic poses based on
But the soft-spoken Beard is better known for set-
ting the research into the world of the earliest anthro-
poids on its collective ear. The winner of a MacArthur
Foundation "genius" award in 2000, he set out to col-
lect a decade's worth of thinking and research into a
book he called The Huntfor the Dawn Monkey:
Unearthing the Origins of Monkeys, Apes and Humans.
To say that the book and its author are controversial in
the rarified world of paleontology is to soft-pedal
what seems to be turning into a major revision in
thinking, one inspired by Beard's unremitting efforts
digging into the soils of remote places such as the
fossil-rich limestone west of Shanghai or the impenetrable jungle terrain of Myanmar (the former Burma).
Beard's specialty is not the so-called "missing link"
that separates apes from humans, but the much more
ancient creatures whose arrival marked the break
between lower prinutes (such as lemurs and the small