Increased ecological resource variability during a critical transition in hominin evolution

Richard Potts*, René Dommain, Jessica W. Moerman, Anna K. Behrensmeyer, Alan L. Deino, Simon Riedl, Emily J. Beverly, Erik T. Brown, Daniel Deocampo, Rahab Kinyanjui, Rachel Lupien, R. Bernhart Owen, Nathan Rabideaux, James M. Russell, Mona Stockhecke, Peter deMenocal, J. Tyler Faith, Yannick Garcin, Anders Noren, Jennifer J. ScottDavid Western, Jordon Bright, Jennifer B. Clark, Andrew Cohen, C. Brehnin Keller, John King, Naomi E. Levin, Kristina Brady Shannon, Veronica Muiruri, Robin W. Renaut, Stephen M. Rucina, Kevin Uno

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

54 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Although climate change is considered to have been a large-scale driver of African human evolution, landscape-scale shifts in ecological resources that may have shaped novel hominin adaptations are rarely investigated. We use well-dated, high-resolution, drill-core datasets to understand ecological dynamics associated with a major adaptive transition in the archeological record ~24 km from the coring site. Outcrops preserve evidence of the replacement of Acheulean by Middle Stone Age (MSA) technological, cognitive, and social innovations between 500 and 300 thousand years (ka) ago, contemporaneous with large-scale taxonomic and adaptive turnover in mammal herbivores. Beginning ~400 ka ago, tectonic, hydrological, and ecological changes combined to disrupt a relatively stable resource base, prompting fluctuations of increasing magnitude in freshwater availability, grassland communities, and woody plant cover. Interaction of these factors offers a resource-oriented hypothesis for the evolutionary success of MSA adaptations, which likely contributed to the ecological flexibility typical of Homo sapiens foragers.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbereabc8975
Number of pages14
JournalScience advances
Volume6
Issue number43
Early online date21 Oct 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020

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