The role of landscapes in shaping hominin habitats in Africa

This source preferred by Sally Reynolds

Authors: Reynolds, S.C.

Start date: 5 August 2013

Place of Publication: UK

Here I briefly review palaeoenvironmental evidence from sites repeatedly used by hominins in eastern and southern Africa, such as Sterkfontein (Cradle of Humankind, Gauteng, South Africa). Common ‘mosaic’ habitat reconstructions involve the presence of a lake or river setting, with a combination of forest or woodland with savannah grasslands in close spatial proximity. The Tectonic Landscape Model [Bailey et al. pp. 257-280 & Reynolds, et al., pp. 281-298 (JHE 60, 2011)], is a new hominin habitat model which explains why certain sites appeared to have been repeatedly used by our ancestors over millions of years. Specific geomorphological processes, such as tectonic faulting, would have created complex topography and thereby encouraged heterogeneous habitats to form, and sustained such features through time. The Plio-Pleistocene is characterised by several key climatic transitions that would have presented unique challenges for hominins and other fauna. Therefore, a more complete appreciation of how geomorphological processes affect landscapes, surface water and vegetation is critical to the characterisation of the hominin niche and also of the strategies employed by our ancestors to adapt to past climatic changes. Furthermore, the use of complex topography by hominins may explain aspects of their postcranial anatomy, diets and possible routes that they may have used to disperse to other regions.

Keywords: geomorphology, endemism, speciation, human evolution, Africa, Plio-Pleistocene.

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