East African climate pulses and early human evolution
Current evidence suggests that all of the major events in hominin evolution have occurred in East Africa. Over the last two decades, there has been intensive work undertaken to understand African palaeoclimate and tectonics in order to put together a coherent picture of how the environment of East Africa has varied in the past. The landscape of East Africa has altered dramatically over the last 10 million years. It has changed from a relatively flat, homogenous region covered with mixed tropical forest, to a varied and heterogeneous environment, with mountains over 4 km high and vegetation ranging from desert to cloud forest. The progressive rifting of East Africa has also generated numerous lake basins, which are highly sensitive to changes in the local precipitation-evaporation regime. There is now evidence that the presence of precession-driven, ephemeral deep-water lakes in East Africa were concurrent with major events in hominin evolution. It seems the unusual geology and climate of East Africa created periods of highly variable local climate, which, it has been suggested could have driven hominin speciation, encephalisation and dispersal out of Africa. One example is the significant hominin speciation and brain expansion event at ∼1.8 Ma that seems to have been coeval with the occurrence of highly variable, extensive, deep-water lakes. This complex, climatically very variable setting inspired first the variability selection hypothesis, which was then the basis for the pulsed climate variability hypothesis. The newer of the two suggests that the long-term drying trend in East Africa was punctuated by episodes of short, alternating periods of extreme humidity and aridity. Both hypotheses, together with other key theories of climate-evolution linkages, are discussed in this paper. Though useful the actual evolution mechanisms, which led to early hominins are still unclear and continue to be debated. However, it is clear that an understanding of East African lakes and their palaeoclimate history is required to understand the context within which humans evolved and eventually left East Africa.
Link (Open Access)
Earliest evidence for the structure of Homo sapiens populations in Africa
Understanding the structure and variation of Homo sapiens populations in Africa is critical for interpreting multiproxy evidence of their subsequent dispersals into Eurasia. However, there is no consensus on early H. sapiens demographic structure, or its effects on intra-African dispersals. Here, we show how a patchwork of ecological corridors and bottlenecks triggered a successive budding of populations across the Sahara. Using a temporally and spatially explicit palaeoenvironmental model, we found that the Sahara was not uniformly ameliorated between ∼130 and 75 thousand years ago (ka), as has been stated. Model integration with multivariate analyses of corresponding stone tools then revealed several spatially defined technological clusters which correlated with distinct palaeobiomes. Similarities between technological clusters were such that they decreased with distance except where connected by palaeohydrological networks. These results indicate that populations at the Eurasian gateway were strongly structured, which has implications for refining the demographic parameters of dispersals out of Africa.
Link (Closed Access)