Dynamic landscapes and human dispersal patterns: tectonics, coastlines, and the reconstruction of human habitats


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January 2011


Studies of the impact of physical environment on human evolution usually focus on climate as the main external forcing agent of evolutionary and cultural change. In this paper we focus on changes in the physical character of the landscape driven by geophysical processes as an equally potent factor. Most of the landscapes where finds of early human fossils and artefacts are concentrated are ones that have been subjected to high levels of geological instability, either because of especially active tectonic processes associated with faulting and volcanic activity or because of proximity to coastlines subject to dramatic changes of geographical position and physical character by changes of relative sea level. These processes can have both beneficial effects, creating ecologically attractive conditions for human settlement, and deleterious or disruptive ones, creating barriers to movement, disruption of ecological conditions, or hazards to survival. Both positive and negative factors can have powerful selective effects on human behaviour and patterns of settlement and dispersal. We consider both these aspects of the interaction, develop a framework for the reconstruction and comparison of landscapes and landscape change at a variety of scales, and illustrate this with selected examples drawn from Africa and Arabia.

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Quaternary Science Reviews, Vol. 30, no. 11-12 (2011).