History of the Foundation

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Image from AnthroCast Catalogue
Image from the Wenner-Gren Foundation Casting Program Catologue

The Foundation's early interest in developing more sophisticated tech­nical aids (Laboratory and Loan Equipment Program, 1948-1952) led to the exploration of new technologies for the safe and more accurate replication of fossils and associated artifacts.

An ambitious seventeen-year program started in 1959 with a sizable grant to the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania, under whose aegis the late chemist David Gilbert could experiment with plastics in the development of methods to reproduce high-quality casts of fossil materials with minimum risk to the original specimens. (An earlier grant to the Uni­versity Museum had purchased the Barlow collection of plaster molds on which the museum's hand-produced plaster casts were based.) Gilbert's research eventually moved to the Foundation's laboratory. For the next seven years, the Foundation fostered the project's evolution from a manual operation to a factory-controlled, batch-production manufacturing process.

The technical process was perfected by 1962, the year in which the Foundation began to make molds from original specimens. Political, academic and personal blocks to accessing original finds were overcome through the generous cooperation of the late L. S. B. Leakey in East Africa. Dr. John Robinson also cleared the way for inclusion of the South African ma­terial in the collection of new molds. Under their supervision, hundreds of molds were pro­duced by three mold makers over several weeks of intensive work in Africa.

With the technical skill and the first molds in hand, the Foundation launched a formal pro­gram to produce cast replicas and to expand the repertory of its available inventory. But these activities were a manifestation of only part of the more sweeping objectives underlying this program. Those goals were to help preserve original materials, to stimulate research and teaching in the field of human evolution, to encourage scientific communication within a scholarly community through a wider and more open and equitable exchange of materials and information and, more immediately, to encourage standardization in the rendering and utili­zation of fossil data. This last objective linked problems of the production process directly to problems of scientific interpretation and to questions about the nature and quality of objective evidence.

With the aid and advice of scholars such as Dr. F. Clark Howell, who acted as curator of the program, the casting standardization criteria emerged as a blend between the requirements of researchers and teachers and the need for quality-control procedures in mold-making which could be followed throughout the entire manufacturing process. The Foundation established its own facility -- Anthro-Cast Production Center -- in 1965. It