Influence of Plio-Pleistocene Aridification on Human Evolution: Evidence from Paleosols of the Turkana Basin, Kenya

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environmental change, aridity, Pliocene, Pleistocene, East Africa, carbon isotope, paleohabitat

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New stable carbon isotope measurements, coupled with paleoprecipitation estimates, both from Plio-Pleistocene paleosols of the Turkana Basin, Kenya, provide a high-resolution record of aridification and increasing C4 biomass during the past 4.3 Ma. This aridification trend is marked by several punctuations at 3.58–3.35, 2.52–2, and 1.81–1.58 Ma, during which the running mean and variance of δ13C and paleoaridity estimates increase, suggesting that the proportion of C4 biomass increases in savanna mosaics during periods of heightened aridity. Increase in C4 biomass during these aridification events not only increases the proportion of open habitats, but increases the spatial neg-entropy, or heterogeneity of the ecosystem. The aridification events identified correspond to intervals of increased turnover, but more importantly, increased diversity of bovids. Although the record of hominins from the Turkana Basin lacks the temporal resolution and diversity of the bovid record, the aridification intervals identified are marked by similar increases in the diversity and turnover of hominins. These results support the hypothesis that hominins evolved in savanna mosaics that changed through time, and suggest that the evolution of bovids and hominins was driven by shifts in climatic instability and habitat variability, both diachronic and synchronic.

Citation / Publisher Attribution

American Journal of Physical Anthropology, v. 123, issue 2, p. 106-118