Last updated:18 July 2014
The intention of the Comprehensive Olduvai Database Initiative (CODI) is to create a complete database of vertebrate fossils excavated from Olduvai Gorge over the last 100 years. During the last century, fossils and anthropological artifacts have been recovered from Olduvai and deposited in many different repositories around Europe, Africa, and the United States. It is the goal of CODI to help people conveniently and efficiently access information about fossils recovered from Olduvai Gorge.
CODI has been funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation (Award # 1025263 to L. Hlusko). Members of this project have searched through literature spanning 100 years – since the first western discovery of fossils by Wilhelm Kattwinkel at the gorge – for references to fossils found at the site. These data have been input into CODI.
In addition to the literature search for references to specimens from Olduvai Gorge, the database also contains information about fossils recovered by the Olduvai Vertebrate Paleontology Project (OVPP), unpublished specimens stored in the Leakey Lab at Mary Leakey Camp, Antiquities Station, Olduvai Gorge (OVPP-L), specimens stored in various repositories throughout Europe and Africa, including, but not limited to specimens formerly housed in the National Museum of Kenya (Nairobi, Kenya)*, specimens house at the National Museums of Tanzania (Dar es Salaam and Arusha), the Natural History Museum UK (London, UK), Die Bayerische Staatssammlung für Paläontologie und Geologie (Munich, Germany), Museum für Naturkunde (Berlin, Germany) and the Senkenberg naturMuseum Frankfurt (Frankfurt, Germany), University of California Museum of Paleontology (Berkeley, California, USA). Newly collected specimens are included in the database soon after being collected. We plan to inventory the Olduvai fossils housed at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle within the next year. Fossil birds are in two personal collections. Those in Dr. Kari Prassack’s control are in the process of being included in CODI. We have not been able to obtain an inventory of the reportedly thousands of fossils that are in Ms. Diana Matthiesen’s control, but include notation of them when “Aves” is searched. Specimens entered from the literature that were housed at the University of Florida at the time of publication and are currently believed to be under Ms. Matthiesen’s control. As we have been unable to ascertain this definitively, these specimens do not have any information in the “Repository” section (as this section meant to reflect the fossil’s certain physical location at the time it is entered into CODI). For these specimens, repository information at the time of publication is included under the “Curatorial Notes” section.
Every effort has been made to provide the most accurate information for each specimen. However, since many of the specimens have been input into the database from literature, CODI is limited by the information provided by the authors of the original publications.
*In 2011, the National Museum of Kenya returned the Olduvai paleontological collections to the National Museum of Tanzania in Dar es Salaam. These fossils are being inventoried and added to CODI. As of January 2013, only the Cercopithecoidea have been entered into the database. To find these materials, search for specimens in the repository “National Museum and House of Culture, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania”.
II. Search Fields in CODI
There are numerous search fields that allow the user to find information about each specimen. Not all specimens have a complete record with all fields in the database filled. Oftentimes literature searches identified a specimen but did not include information such as the repository or the locality where it was recovered, definite statements as to whether or not the specimen is a fossil, or in many cases a specimen number. We have made every effort to be clear as to what information in the database is from the original publication and what information was added from other publications or to give the specimen a unique identifier.
Each field is defined below.
This is a unique number given to every specimen record, as is necessary for database construction. Numbers are assigned based on the order they are input into the database. CODI Specimen numbers are not contained in the specimens’ repository catalog.
The Specimen # is the official number assigned to a specimen by its respective repository or by the scientist who originally collected it.
For specimens entered from literature, if a specimen number was not provided, or if it could not be accurately determined from the text or pictures of the specimen, the specimen number is labeled as “OVPP ‘Taxon’ #” where “OVPP”, indicates that we have created a specimen number for this specimen and the “taxon” placeholder contains the genus of the specimen as provided by the original author(s). If genus is not provided, the next most specific classification is given. The “#” placeholder represents the order in which a specimen was entered into the database relative to other specimens of similar taxonomy that are also lacking original specimen numbers. For example, Specimen number “OVPP Erinaceus 45” is the 45th specimen of Erinaceus entered into CODI for which no specimen number was designated by the original author.
Oftentimes, authors would provide a count of specimens from a certain taxon rather than a one-by-one inventory. For example, Leakey (1965) mentions 242 lower jaw fragments of Suncus lixus. In these cases where groups of specimens are described en masse, a single entry is made for all specimens, with the specific count of each skeletal element and the minimum number of individuals, if available, listed in the curatorial notes. When an author only refers to “several” specimens only one unique CODI and Specimen number were entered with a comment in the Curatorial Notes section that several specimens are mentioned in the original publication.
OVPP-# indicates specimens collected by the Olduvai Vertebrate Paleontology Project.
OVPP-L-# indicates specimens stored in the Leakey Lab at the Mary Leakey Camp, Antiquities Station Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania.
OLD-# indicates specimens housed at the NHM UK (London) that have yet to be assigned museum numbers. Once assigned, the OLD-# will be replaced by museum numbers and the OLD-# designations will be recorded in the Curatorial Notes field.
Museum specimens: When museum numbers were unavailable or unclear, the specimen was named according to the information written on the specimen. This is particularly relevant to specimens at the National Museum and House of Culture, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
The geological locality is the locality described in geological studies. Most of the geological localities are described by Hay (1976). This field is usually blank when a specimen was entered from the literature, except when an author describes a fossil from a geological trench or references the provenience to a geological locality. Museum specimens include this information when it is clearly documented or written on the specimen.
This refers to an archaeological locality. These localities were named by the excavator, primarily from the work of Mary Leakey. For specimens entered from the literature, archaeological locality is only included if the author provided this information, it was indicated in the specimen number, or written on the photographed specimen. Museum specimens include this information when it is clearly documented or written on the specimen.
This section describes the skeletal elements that the specimen (or specimens, in cases where multiple specimens are listed under a single record) represents. For specimens entered from the literature, if an author did not describe which elements were recovered and they cannot be identified, the abbreviation “UK” (unknown) was used. In addition, “UK” is used for fragments that could not be identified to skeletal element. To access a key to the preserved element abbreviations, visit preserved elements.
This section refers to the research team or expedition responsible for discovering the specimen. Museum specimens include this information when it is clearly documented or written on the specimen.
For specimens not entered from the literature, taxonomic designations for tribe and higher are from McKenna and Bell (1997). However, the entries for museum specimens are entered according to the associated curatorial information at their place of repository, when available. For specimens entered from the literature, these designations are based on the detail provided by the author at the time of initial publication. Some taxa have since been reclassified. When available, the original scientific classification for each specimen was always used even if it is currently incorrect. We felt it important that the original name be preserved and linked to the person who made the original identification. Without going back and reassessing each individual specimen, it will be difficult to determine whether a name change is appropriate across the board.
For specimens entered from the literature, this indicates the person who made the published identification of the specimen. Unless explicitly stated otherwise in the publication or monograph, the author of the reference is credited with identification. Museum specimens include this information when it is clearly documented or written on the specimen. In some cases, researchers have provided information on Olduvai fossils. In this case, the researcher will be listed in this field and/or in the Curatorial Notes field. For OVPP specimens, this indicates the person who identified the specimen when it was discovered. For OVPP-L specimens, this indicated the person who identified the specimen when it was inventoried.
Date of ID (m/d/y)
This is the date of specimen identification if provided by the author. Museum specimens include this information when it is clearly documented or written on the specimen.
This field indicates whether or not there is a problem in taxonomic identification. Note that the vast majority of taxonomic identifications below the level of the Family do not incorporate recent reassessments. Users are advised to search by Family as their lowest taxonomic distinction in order to encompass out-of-date taxonomic assignments.
This is the year when the specimen was excavated or recovered. For specimens entered from the literature, this is entered if the excavation date was provided by the author or indicated in the specimen number (e.g., HWK 1960.58). Museum specimens include this information when it is clearly documented or written on the specimen.
Taxonomic notes and comments
Any additional information about the taxonomy are provided in this section. This section is where type species, including both holotypes and paratypes, are noted. This field also indicates if a particular specimen has had known taxonomic reclassification since its original publication and gives information on the author who has reclassified it. Please note that we do not actively search out such updates. We advise you to assume that these are out of date.
This field describes the museum or other collection where a specimen is housed. The repository is designated as “Unknown” if the author did not provide information on where the specimen is housed. If the repository is uncertain it will be reflected in this field with a question mark and/or contain relevant information in the Curatorial Notes field.
This field allows for additional information regarding the specimens recovered. It may include more detailed information about elements preserved or other information given by the author or researcher who described the specimen.
This is the geologic bed from which the specimen was recovered. For specimens entered from the literature, this information was only included if the author explicitly stated the bed from which the specimen was recovered or if the bed was given in the Specimen # provided by the author (e.g., FLK N I 7555 is a specimen of Antidorcas from bed I). Museum specimens include this information when it is clearly documented or written on the specimen.
This describes the level within the Bed from which the specimen was recovered. It can be upper, middle, or lower. Museum specimens include this information when it is clearly documented or written on the specimen.
This field describes whether the specimen was found in situ. The “U” stands for unknown and usually refers to the fact that the original author did not explicitly state whether or not the specimen was excavated or found on the surface. Museum specimens are marked “U” unless this information is clearly documented or written on the specimen.
This describes the layer within the bed from which the specimen was recovered (eg. the Zinjanthropus (22) layer at site FLK). Museum specimens include this information when it is clearly documented or written on the specimen.
Sediment or Matrix adhering?
This indicates whether the specimen that was recovered on the surface was found with matrix adhering to it. We note this information since it might be able to indicate the bed, level, and layer from which the specimen was originally recovered. For specimens entered from the literature, this information is provided only if the author explicitly states that there was sediment or matrix adhering to the specimen upon recovery. Museum specimens include this information when it is clearly documented or the specimen clearly has sediment or matrix adhering to it.
This field provides the reference in which the first description of the specimen occurs or the publication from which we drew the entry. The taxonomy of the specimen may have since been reevaluated. If a specimen has been taxonomically reclassified since its original description and we are aware of it, that information is provided in the Taxonomic notes and comments field.
Special concerns and issues of which to be aware:
- Greenwood and Todd (1970) provide details of fish remains recovered in excavations from Olduvai Gorge. Specimens from one section of this monograph titled “Recent Material” were not included as it is unclear whether the term “recent” refers to the age of the specimens (i.e., fossil or modern) or the time of the excavation.
- Auffenberg (1981) provides information on fossil turtles recovered at Olduvai Gorge. In his account, he mentions that over 3,000 fossilized turtle fragments have been found at Olduvai, with 98% of those belonging to Pelusios sinuatus. However, it is unclear which of the specimens he describes actually belong to this species and which belong to other species.
At the request of museum officials in Tanzania and the United Kingdom, the photos we have taken for specimens and uploaded onto the CODI website are all low-resolution images which do not exceed 700 pixels in width or height. These specimens include: OVPP, OVPP-L, and those housed at the National Museum and House of Culture, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and at the National History Museum, London, United Kingdom.
Many specimens in the CODI database have been photographed by previous researchers. Some specimens have been photographed from various angles. We have attempted to include published plates or pictures, which we scanned using a Hewlett Packard Scanjet 4850 photo scanner. These published images are included in the specimen record. Unless otherwise stated, images are scanned from the original publication. Information regarding the plate/figure number is provided in the Curatorial Notes section.
Identification and Taxonomic Authority
When specimens were input into the CODI database, the taxonomic identification of the original author was used and that author is given credit for specimen identification. Since species and even genus designations often change based on the latest taxonomic analyses, we kept the original identification but have referred to more recent classification in the Taxonomic notes and comments section. The higher levels of taxonomy (tribe and up) are based on McKenna and Bell’s 1997 Classification of Mammals Above the Species Level. This is a standard taxonomic authority used in mammal classification.
1.) At the time of publication of this database, we have not updated the names of any genera, species or subspecies found in Olduvai deposits and described from our literature search. We felt it important that the original name be preserved and linked to the person who made the original identification. Without going back and reassessing each individual specimen, it will be difficult to determine whether a name change is appropriate across the board.
2.) This database was not developed to serve as an analytical tool for first or last appearance dates of various taxa, only for use as an aid to accessing the collection for further research. Using this database for large-scale studies of evolutionary pattern and process is inappropriate unless the user has meticulously checked every entry for accuracy.