C.S. ‘Rufus’ Churcher Graduate Scholarship in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Professor C.S.(Rufus) Churcher

Charles S. “Rufus” Churcher was born in Aldershot, England, 1928, graduated University of Natal, South Africa BSc Hons 1952, MSc in Paleomammology, 1954 and PhD Neomammology 1957, University of Toronto.

Dr. Churcher began his teaching career at U of T 1957 and retired 1993, having served a 3 year term as Associate Dean, Arts and Science and 4 year term as Associate Chair Zoology Department. His career included teacher of vertebrate morphology and a field researcher in paleontology and geology, the latter split between western Canada and eastern Africa, Egypt to South Africa.

In 1979 Professor Churcher was invited to become a principal investigator in a group exploring Dakhleh Oasis, in Egypt’s Western Desert, identifying modern vertebrate fauna plus vertebrate food debris from Neolithic, Pharaonic, Ptolomaic, Roman and later times. Dr. Churcher continued this work in retirement and in 1996 found a Pleistocene horizon, a critical period when Homo s. sapiens evolved and exited Africa via the Sinai or Red Sea for Eurasia. Rufus has recovered a plethora of fossils from a marly freshwater lake deposit: extinct camel, small warthog, hippopotamus, hartebeest, antelope, gazelle, buffalo, Cape zebra, and casts of reeds, implying an extensive permanent lake with marshy edges. Professor Churcher likens this now desert area with the current Rift Valley lakes which wax and wane with the rains. The Dakhleh Oasis includes Holocene, 8,000 year ago, Neolithic sites where bone fragments are found with pottery fragments, flint artifacts and fossilized tree stumps. The faunal remains suggest to Rufus that climatic conditions were similar to those of the Pleistocene, hundreds of thousands of years earlier.

Professor C.S.(Rufus) Churcher

Professor Churcher has published more than a hundred papers in Paleontology, edited a volume on aspects of Dakhleh Oasis and co-authored a chapter on the geology and geomorphology of the oasis. Walking hundreds of kilometers in the area convinced Rufus the oasis was not a simple basin as reported but rather a tectonic area with fault zones plus one or more synclinal basins. Concurrent with the mammalian findings, the fieldwork has yielded many Cretaceous fish and reptile fossils resulting in an extensive collection of Late Cretaceous marine vertebrates from the Egyptian Gulf of Tethyean Ocean, the antecedent to the Mediterranean Sea. Professor Churcher has self-financed the past 18 years of his Egyptian research in “retirement”.