• hominoids;
  • Powell-Cotton Museum;
  • ontogeny;
  • online database


Information about primate genomes has re-emphasized the importance of the great apes (Pan, Gorilla, and Pongo) as, for most purposes, the appropriate comparators when generating hypotheses about the most recent common ancestor of the hominins and panins, or the most recent common ancestor of the hominin clade. Great ape skeletal collections are thus an important and irreplaceable resource for researchers conducting these types of comparative analyses, yet the integrity of these collections is threatened by unnecessary use and their availability is threatened by financial pressures on the institutions in which the collections reside. We discuss the general history of great ape skeletal collections, and in order to get a better sense of the utility and potential of these important sources of data we assemble the equivalent of a biography of the Powell-Cotton Collection. We explore the history of how this collection of chimpanzee and gorilla skeletons was accumulated, how it came to be recognized as a potentially important source of comparative information, who has made use of it, and what types of data have been collected. We present a protocol for collecting information about each individual animal (e.g., which bones are preserved, their condition, etc.) and have made that information about the Powell-Cotton Collection freely available in an online relational database (Human Origins Database, As an illustration of the practical application of these data, we developed a tabular summary of ontogenetic information about each individual (see Appendices A and B). Collections like the Powell-Cotton are irreplaceable sources of material regarding the hard-tissue evidence and recent history of the closest living relatives of modern humans. We end this contribution by suggesting ways that curators and the researchers who use and rely on these reference collections could work together to help preserve and protect them so that future generations can use and benefit from these priceless resources. Am J Phys Anthropol 57:2–32, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.