Homo Erectus: Pleistocene Evidence from the Middle Awash, Ethiopia

Homo Erectus: Pleistocene Evidence from the Middle Awash, Ethiopia

Homo Erectus: Pleistocene Evidence from the Middle Awash, Ethiopia

Homo Erectus: Pleistocene Evidence from the Middle Awash, Ethiopia


This volume, the first in a series devoted to the paleoanthropological resources of the Middle Awash Valley of Ethiopia, studies Homo erectus, a close relative of Homo sapiens. Written by a team of highly regarded scholars, this book provides the first detailed descriptions, photographs, and analysis of the fossil vertebrates--from elephants and hyenas to humans--from the Daka Member of the Bouri Formation of the Afar, a place renowned for an abundant and lengthy record of human ancestors. These fossils contribute to our understanding human evolution, and the associated fauna provide new information about the distribution and variability of Pleistocene mammals in eastern Africa. The contributors are all active researchers who worked on the paleontology and geology of these unique deposits. Here they have combined their disparate efforts into a single volume, making the original research results accessible to both the specialist and the general reader. The volume synthesizes environmental backdrop and anatomical detail to open an unparalleled window on the African Pleistocene and its inhabitants.


The great rifts of Africa are huge pull-apart or tensional zones whose numerous normal faults often drop their central parts thousands of meters below their margins. the Eastern Rift forms a natural hydraulic catchment almost everywhere it is exposed terrestrially. This dynamic system of horsts, grabens, accommodation faults, and uneven land surfaces complexly overlays the rift’s axis. Shallow and ephemeral lakes form in the broken terrain, and rivers fill the lakes with sediment. Continued tectonic activity exposes these sediments and their contents to erosion—and to paleoanthropological research.

With nutrient-rich lakes, stream margins, gallery forests, and grassy sumplands, these geological systems provided ecological circumstances attractive to early hominids. Here the forerunners of humans lived and died. Some were entombed in sediments that possessed the right chemical array to fossilize their bones. the Middle Awash study area in the Afar Depression of eastern Ethiopia is a place where conditions were especially conducive to these processes.

Over the last 25 years the Middle Awash study area has proven to be one of the richest fossil areas in eastern Africa. It comprises the longest single record of human evolution on earth, with hominid fossils ranging in age from nearly six million years to around fifty thousand years. Middle Awash sediments regularly interred mammalian remains and archaeological traces, and subsequent erosion has exposed scores of vantages into the deep past. Through these portals we see our ancestors across geological time, from smallbrained, ape-like Ardipithecus, through the development of tool use, to the first of our species, Homo sapiens.

I have had the good fortune of working in the Middle Awash on several occasions. in the months I have spent there, I joined and observed a large group of staff, students, and researchers working under extreme conditions. I never once heard a complaint. Local Afar pastoralists and world-renowned scientists worked side-by-side, digging wells, gathering firewood, cutting roads, surveying, excavating, sieving, and performing the countless other tasks that are required to bring fossils from where they occur naturally to a state that allows their presentation in volumes like this one.

One of my fondest memories is of the late Desmond Clark. By the early 1990s, I had known and admired him for over 30 years. Work was intensifying at Bouri, and . . .

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