Correlating palaeoenvironmental to archaeological records through continental coring and their implications to hominin behaviors at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania

Jackson K. Njau1,2, Nick Toth2,3, Kathy Schick2,3, Edward W. Herrmann1, Lana Ruck2,4, Michael Pante5, Ian G. Stanistreet2,6, Harald Stollhofen7, Lindsay J. McHenry8, Simon Brassell1

  1. Department of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA;
  2. Stone Age Institute, 1392 W Dittemore Road, Gosport, Indiana, USA;
  3. Cognitive Science Program, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA;
  4. Department of Anthropology, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA;
  5. Department of Anthropology, Colorado State University, Colorado, USA;
  6. Department of Earth, Ocean and Ecological Sciences, University of Liverpool, UK;
  7. GeoZentrum Nordbayern, Friedrich-Alexander-University (FAU) Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany;
  8. Department of Geosciences, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA;


Understanding the influence of climate and environment on human evolution is one of the enduring scientific issues in modern paleoanthropology. Scientists have long speculated upon various hypotheses that link key evolutionary changes in human history (such as the transition from arboreal to terrestrial adaptation, bipedalism, encephalization, foraging behavior, diet, technological innovation, and dispersal) to African climate change during the late Cenozoic. However, the hypothesized causal relationship between environmental forcing and evolutionary events remains inadequately tested. This is because the geological, geochemical, paleontological, and palaeoenvironmental data derived from outcrops are often incomplete and poorly preserved, due to surface weathering and discontinuous exposures. As such, traditional field archaeological and geological methods face difficulties in establishing precise temporal correlations between environmental history and archaeological records. Recent palaeoenvironmental data acquired through scientific drilling from Olduvai Basin depocenters have yielded highly resolved stratigraphy and high-quality paleoclimate records that allow temporal correlation of archaeological contexts at resolutions not attained previously. We report the first archaeological test of the effects of environmental change by examining various traits of stone tool and fossil assemblages that reveal the ecological pressures experienced by hominins during critical evolutionary intervals in the Quaternary period. Results from recently excavated sites (e.g., DK, LLK, JK, HEB, FLK W-Masek Beds) provide new insights into the relationship between environmental change and behavioral adaptation of our stone tool-using ancestors, including the extinction of megadontia ca. 1 million years ago in the Olduvai Basin.

Subject Communication
Language of text English
Topics AFR.001: Recent Advances in Early Stone Age Studies in Africa, New Insights on the Oldowan and the Acheulian Stone Technology
Keywords palaeoclimate; palaeoenvironment; human evolution; coring; Tanzania;
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