Published online by Cambridge University Press: 08 October 2009
We conceived this book in acknowledgement of the intellectual debt that we personally, and as members of the primatological community, owe to the work of John and Prue Napier. In the early years of evolutionary primatology, some non-human primates (such as apes) were considered interesting because they were closely related to the human species, others (such as baboons) because their habitats fit the prevailing concept of early hominid paleoenvironments. The remaining non-human primates, further from the human line, or less obviously relevant to human origins, tended to be relegated to the status of “poor relations”, represented in the texts by one or two “typical” or better-known species. That this anthropocentric approach gave way, in the 1960s and 1970s, to one more attuned to the broader concerns and insights of contemporary evolutionary biology, was due in no small part to the vision and efforts of John and Prue Napier.
Trained and experienced in reconstructive surgery, John Napier was a superb primate anatomist, in the functionally-based, evolutionary-oriented tradition established by T.H. Huxley and E. Haeckel, developed by F. Wood Jones, W.K. Gregory, A.H. Schultz, and W.E. Le Gros Clark, and practiced by his contemporaries W.L. Straus, G. Erikson and S.L. Washburn, among others. He was also, however, fascinated by primate natural history and diversity, was a close associate of W.C. Osman Hill, Ivan T. Sanderson, and David Attenborough, and maintained a lively network of contacts with fieldworkers in all parts of the primate world. Cliff Jolly was Napier's first graduate student in evolutionary primatology.