Photo: Guillermo Cock at an Inca burial site

Photograph by Ira Block

Major Fields of Study

With its support of anthropological projects, the Committee for Research and Exploration (CRE) aims to contribute to our understanding of how and why human beings came to be where they are—both physically and culturally.

Among the CRE grantees who have enlightened our understanding of humanity's physical history are Louis and Mary Leakey, with their groundbreaking early-human studies in East Africa—work carried on by CRE grantees Richard, Meave, and Louise Leakey.

In 1974 grantee Donald Johanson discovered "Lucy"—the most complete upright-walking human ancestor of her age yet found. In 2000, in the Republic of Georgia, David Lordkipanidze unearthed what are believed to be the remains of the earliest human ancestors known to migrate to Europe from Africa.

Cultural anthropologist Charles Mountford's studies of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia—including the landmark 1948 American-Australian Scientific Expedition Into Arnhem Land—were supported by the CRE.

The CRE also funded much of the work of Brazilian ethnologist Harald Schultz, whose 1962 book, Hombu, explored the lives of Brazilian Indians. More recently, we helped make possible Arantza Gonzalez Apraiz's study of Spain's Basque people. Gonzalez used DNA sampling—of both European Basques and Americans of Basque descent—to determine Spanish Basque origins.

In 2002 Spencer Wells received a grant for his project to ascertain who the ancient Phoenicians were, how they became so advanced, and if they might have traveled to the New World as many as 2,000 years before Columbus.

Nearly a quarter of all Committee for Research and Exploration (CRE) grants have gone toward archaeological fieldwork across the globe. Our grantees have unearthed evidence of China's earliest rice production, located ancient shipwrecks off Africa, explored Egypt's Giza plateau, and much more.

The CRE's first archaeology grant went to Hiram Bingham in 1912 to excavate Machu Picchu—Peru's once lost Inca city. Four years later we awarded Neil M. Judd a U.S. $3,000 grant to begin his excavation of the ancient Anasazi culture's Pueblo Bonito site in New Mexico.

In 1938, after receiving the first of 18 grants, Matthew Stirling ventured into the lowlands of Mexico and uncovered colossal stone heads of the ancient Olmec culture.

More recently the CRE has supported much of the work of pioneer underwater archaeologist George Bass, as well as that of another premier nautical archaeologist, Robert Ballard. The CRE has also supported Naguib Kanawati's excavations at Akhmim in Egypt, enabling Kanawati to—among other things—correct many of the errors in the early-1900s documentation of hieroglyphs.

Likewise, in Guatemala, grantees Arthur Demarest and William Saturno have shed new light on ancient Maya culture with their respective excavations of the ancient Maya palace at Cancuen and the murals at San Bartolo.

In the 1990s grantee William Kelso found the lost remains of the early-17th century fort at Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in America. The historical archaeologist's discoveries, including artifacts and human remains, are helping him and other scholars interpret a long-neglected time in colonial history.

Ever since we supported Simon Newcomb's lunar eclipse expedition of 1900, the Committee for Research and Exploration (CRE) has been an ally to astronomers.

In that year Newcomb received the first CRE grant for astronomy. Already an eminent scientist, he traveled via steamer to Norfolk, Virginia. There, he laid sheets on a dock, using them as a "screen" across which to track the shadow of the moon as it moved across the night sky.

Since then the CRE's astronomy grants have reflected striking advances in technology. The CRE supported the 1950s Palomar Sky Survey, a long-term project to create a comprehensive map of the visible stars in the universe.

In recent years we have funded Jay Pasachoff's ongoing study of solar eclipses, Tom Gehrels's investigations of Earth-crossing asteroids, Pascal Lee's "Mars on Earth" studies at Canada's Haughton meteorite impact crater, and Daniel Durda's search for "vulcanoids" (small asteroids thought to circle the sun).

Nearly half of all Committee for Research and Exploration (CRE) grants go to projects within the biology discipline. Among our biology grantees are such respected names as Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey—and the list keeps growing.

In addition to that primate research, the CRE has supported Eugenie Clark's deep-sea investigations, Jared Diamond's work with Pacific island birds, John Terborgh's ecological studies of the tropics of Central and South America, and Alwyn Gentry's study of plant life in the Amazon.

More recently, grantee Philip DeVries's work in Ecuador's rain forest has revealed the symbiotic relationship between ants and nymphalid caterpillars. Joydeep Bose is studying the ability of India's endangered Phayre's leaf monkey to adapt to its increasingly fragmented habitat. And Scott Mori's work in French Guiana has revealed the crucial role of bats in regenerating rain forests—and thereby maintaining plant and animal diversity.

In 1998 Oliver Phillips's CRE-supported study showed that mature forests in the Amazon rain forest have become more massive over the past 20 years. Today Phillips's work continues, as he investigates the long-term global-warming implications of this finding.

While geography is in some way represented in every Committee for Research and Exploration (CRE) grant, geography as a distinct discipline has been supported throughout the CRE's century-plus history. In fact, geographical expeditions received the majority of our earliest grants.

Most of the CRE's first grants were for geographical exploration—including Israel C. Russell's 1890 mapping expedition of the area of Mt. St. Elias, Robert E. Peary's 1909 expedition to the North Pole, and Roald Amundsen's 1914-15 explorations of the South Pole. Such expeditions helped shape what the National Geographic Society would become.

Later CRE-supported expeditions—such as Richard E. Byrd's unprecedented 1929 flight over the South Pole and Albert W. Stevens and Orvil A. Anderson's 1935 balloon flights to explore the upper atmosphere—further solidified the Society's identity as an organization seeking to better understand our world.

More recently the CRE has funded Michael J. Watts's study of the impact of oil exploration in Africa and Sally P. Horn's climate studies of ice age glaciers in the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica.

Today urban growth in environmentally sensitive areas is a new focus of the CRE.

Using space-based radar systems, GIS (geographical information systems), and remote sensing, grantee Barry Haack is studying the effect of urban expansion on Kathmandu's infrastructure and the area's natural environment. Likewise, CRE grantee Qihao Weng is using satellite data and field surveys to investigate the impact of rapid urbanization on China's Zhu River (Pearl River) Delta.

Since its first geology grant in 1902, the Committee for Research and Exploration (CRE) has supported investigations into earth-based phenomena, such as volcanoes, earthquakes, and glaciers.

In 1902 the CRE helped make it possible for Robert T. Hill of the U.S. Geological Survey to travel to the Caribbean island of Martinique to investigate the effects of Mont Pelée's eruption (one of the deadliest of the 20th century). Since then the CRE has gone on to support a variety of geology projects.

Serendipitous discoveries and the interweaving of disciplines were especially evident with a CRE geology grant given in 1975 to Walter Alvarez, son of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Luis Alvarez.

On a 1975 CRE-supported project to explore sediments in southern Italy and Corsica, Walter Alvarez made observations that led him and his father—Nobel Prize-winning physicist Luis Alvarez—to a breakthrough theory. The Alvarez Theory of Extinction pioneered the now widely held view that dinosaurs became extinct as a result of a collision of a large asteroid or meteorite with the Earth.

CRE also helped fund Harald Sigurdsson's studies of Earth's volcanoes, Robert Palmquist's history of landslides in Wyoming, and Stuart Hurlbert's investigation into the cause of ancient Andean ice islands. Through such projects, the CRE attempts to shed light on global environmental change—past and present.

With names such as Cousteau and Ballard, Committee for Research and Exploration (CRE) grantees have made vital contributions to our understanding of the oceans—and continue to do so.

Among oceanography's best known CRE grantees is William Beebe, who in 1934 completed a record-breaking descent inside a heavy steel ball called a bathysphere. In addition, much of Jacques-Yves Cousteau's work was CRE sponsored.

On a number of occasions Cousteau collaborated with another CRE grantee, Harold "Doc" Edgerton. With CRE support, Edgerton pioneered high-speed flash photography, making possible his famous photos of the crownlike splash of a milk drop and a bullet passing through an apple, among others. Edgerton worked with Cousteau in developing techniques for underwater photography, including the groundbreaking use of sonar to decipher the depths.

CRE grantee Robert D. Ballard would further develop sonar technology and help perfect camera-equipped, remotely operated vehicles. Such machines made possible stunning real-time video, which Ballard used to make deep-sea discoveries—including his discovery of the wreck of Titanic.

Gilbert Voss, the recipient of more than a dozen grants during the 1960s, was one of the first scientists to discover the damage being done to many of the world's coral reefs.

More recently, grantee Craig Smith has investigated "communities" of whale skeletons in the North Pacific that offer habitats to more than 40 animal species. And Barbara Block's satellite tagging of Atlantic bluefin tuna is shedding light on this animal's behavior—as well as on the causes of its decline.

Committee for Research and Exploration (CRE) grants for paleontology—the study of life forms that existed in former geologic periods—have helped shed light on the very beginnings of life on our planet and how it has evolved over time.

Our grants have brought to light everything from Madagascar's giant lemur to the earliest grasses, found in what is now Nebraska and Kansas. CRE paleontology grants have likewise funded numerous dinosaur discoveries.

Working in Niger in 2000, Paul Sereno unearthed "SuperCroc," one of the most complete specimens of Sarcosuchus imperator (one of the largest crocodilian species to have ever lived).

In 1982 Grantees Patricia Vickers Rich and Tom Rich received their first grant to excavate remains of dinosaurs that had lived under polar conditions in early cretaceous Australia. In 2001 grantee Xu Xing discovered, in China, the oldest fossil of an oviraptor yet found—a strange bucktoothed dinosaur he named Incisivosaurus.


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