Pioneering Rutgers scientist helps reconstruct an ancient East African landscape where human ancestors lived 1.8 million years ago
Our human ancestors, who looked like a cross between apes and modern humans, had access to food, water and shady shelter at a site in Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. They even had lots of stone tools with sharp edges, said Gail M. Ashley, a professor in the Rutgers Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences in the School of Arts and Sciences.
But “it was tough living,” she said. “It was a very stressful life because they were in continual competition with carnivores for their food.”
To say nothing of them and the carnivores’ becoming each others’ food sources.
During years of work, Ashley and other researchers carefully reconstructed an early human landscape on a fine scale, using plant and other evidence collected at the sprawling site. Their pioneering work was published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The landscape reconstruction will help paleoanthropologists develop ideas and models on what early humans were like, how they lived, how they got their food (especially protein), what they ate and drank and their behavior, Ashley said.
Hey, it’s a big improvement on pop science’s fact-neutral evolutionary psychology, as in “Grok hits his head on the cave roof and somehow tries thinking for a change…”
It’s good to see honest attempts at history slowly replacing ideology and speculation in the study of human origins.
See also: Did Neanderthal man follow paleo diet?
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Here’s the signficance:
Humans evolved in response to the availability of plant and water resources over space and through time. Their influence on our species’ evolution is debated, though, because archives of their spatial distribution are scarce at early human (hominin) localities. Meter-scale vegetation patterns are revealed from sedimentary plant biomarkers across an archaeological horizon at Olduvai Gorge (FLK Zinj). Biomarkers evince a varied local landscape with a woodland patch near a small freshwater wetland, surrounded by an open grassland landscape. Biomarkers from the wetland indicate diverse edible plants near potable water. The coexistence of butchered large animal bones and hominin remains, including juveniles, within an isolated biomarker-delineated wooded microhabitat at FLK Zinj provide support for early provisioning behaviors by our ancestors. (paywall) – Clayton R. Magill, Gail M. Ashley, Manuel Domínguez-Rodrigo, Katherine H. Freeman. Dietary options and behavior suggested by plant biomarker evidence in an early human habitat. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2016; 201507055 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1507055113