Museum collections are critical resources for examining comparative anatomy, developmental biology and life history hypotheses. Evaluation of skeletal collections provides insight into spatiotemporal, species, population and individual variation associated with environmental, social and epidemiological history. For endangered species such as primates, these collections provide data that are nearly impossible to replicate today.
In this first in a series of papers reviewing the great ape holdings of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University, we describe the Pan troglodytes skeletal collection. Although most of the collection is from Central Africa’s Atlantic coast, it includes several Pan troglodytes subspecies. Multiple age and sex classes are present, with craniodental and postcranial elements available for each age class. All material was assessed for developmental, disease, trauma and socioecological indicators. Multiple indicators of metabolic stress are present and likely associated with nutritional and epidemiological factors. Instances of trauma and injury, ranging from antemortem to perimortem events, are described. For some individuals, these injuries are likely associated with intraspecific and intrasexual competition and violence, whereas others are suggestive of infanticide attempts. Other injuries associated with interspecific violence are of value for forensic examination.
Our evaluation of the Yale Peabody Museum collection provides a baseline for future research and testable hypotheses for alternate techniques, such as isotopic analyses of calculus and noninvasive genetic testing. Museum collections continue to provide new insights into taxonomic and individual variation and environmental cues, and ultimately allow for comparisons between modern and historical environmental and behavioral variables.