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Brenda Benefit

Brenda Benefit
Ph.D., New York University, 1987; Professor Emerita
Emeritus Faculty

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Phone: NA
Breland 304

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Expertise: Biological Anthropology


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Dr. Benefit is a biological anthropologist focusing on the evolution of Miocene, Pliocene, and Pleistocene catarrhine primates (Old World monkeys and apes) in Africa, paleoecology, dental variation, and dental correlates of diet (including functional morphology and enamel microwear) in living and fossil primates.


Brenda Benefit is a professor of biological anthropology. Her research specializes on the evolutionary history of Old World monkeys and apes. Since 1987, she has collaborated with Monte McCrossin on the excavation, analysis and description of a diverse 15 million year old primate community fossilized in middle Miocene deposits on Maboko Island in a small gulf of Lake Victoria in Kenya. The Maboko fossils include some of the oldest and best-preserved remains of primates that may be ancestral to modern monkeys and apes, and several extinct ape species with unusual adaptations. Her “pet” Maboko primate has been the monkey Victoriapithecus which provides considerable insight about the origin and diversification of the African and Asian monkeys, as well as about the common ancestor that monkeys and apes shared prior to their divergence 25 million years ago (see Benefit, B.R. and McCrossin M.L. 2002 Old World monkeys: The Miocene emergence In Hartwig, Walter ed. The Primate Fossil Record pp. 241-253.  Cambridge University Press; Benefit, B. R. 1999 Victoriapithecus, the key to Old World monkey and catarrhine origins. Evolutionary Anthropology 7: 155-174 and Benefit, B. R. 2000 Old World monkey origins and diversification: an evolutionary study of diet and dentition. In P. F. Whitehead and C. J. Jollyeds., Old World Monkeys, 133-179. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Benefit, B.R. and McCrossin, M.L. 1997 Earliest known Old World monkey skull. Nature 388:368-371 (and cover photograph)).

In 2004 she began a new project working in collaboration with Noel Boaz, Monte McCrossin, Greg Mack and an international team of geologists and paleontologists on Neogene fossiliferous deposits at Sahabi and Jabal Zaltan in Libya (see photograph taken at Sahabi in 2004). She and McCrossin met while graduate students at NYU working for Dr. Boaz on the International Sahabi Research Project in 1980. It was then that she participated in the paleontological field work in Libya. The project was put on hiatus for 23 years until relations between Libya and the United States were improved. Since 2004 Dr. Benefit has received grants from NSF and the Wenner-Gren Foundation to look for fossil primates and other mammals in eastern Libya and to determine whether the fauna has greater similarities to those from Europe or eastern Africa.  In November 2006 she was an invited participant in the “Euro-African Biotic Evolution in the Neogene” conference and workshop at the University of Athens, Greece. In early 2007 the fieldwork at Sahabi led to the discovery of some new monkey fossil. She currently has a paper in press: Benefit, B.R. The biostratigraphy and palaeontology of fossil cercopithecoids from eastern Libya. In Salem, M.J. et al. eds. Geology of East Libya. Amsterdam: Elsevier, and has given two talks on the new research in Libya.