Courtesy of Gerhard W. Weber
 MEET MRS. PLES: Found in South Africa, this 2.5 million-year-old fossil graces the cover of a CD-ROM that contains digital 3-D data from CT scans in different formats.

Paleoanthropologists are reputedly a passionate bunch, which is not surprising for a discipline that asks questions that hit close to home and relies heavily on interpreting differences among hard-won, unique specimens to provide answers. With a mixture of frustration and pride, they regularly repeat the quip that many major players refuse to convene in the same room. It's a reality that makes Bernard Wood's plan seem all the more ambitious.

Wood, an adjunct senior scientist with the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, wants his peers not only to sit down together, but pool data in an international, open-access database, akin to GenBank, for research on human evolution. Because the discipline depends on comparisons, Wood hopes that...

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