Wednesday, March 23, 2016

EARLY HUMAN HABITAT AT 1.8 MILLION YEARS AGO SHOWS DIFFICULTIES

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."

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.

Famous paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey discovered the site in 1959 and uncovered thousands of animal bones and stone tools. Through exhaustive excavations in the last decade, Ashley, other scientists and students collected numerous soil samples and studied them via carbon isotope analysis. Early human habitat, recreated for first time, shows life was no picnic

The landscape, it turned out, had a freshwater spring, wetlands and woodland as well as grasslands. "We were able to map out what the plants were on the landscape with respect to where the humans and their stone tools were found," Ashley said. "That's never been done before. Mapping was done by analyzing the soils in one geological bed, and in that bed there were bones of two different hominin species."

The two species of hominins, or early humans, are Paranthropus boisei - robust and pretty small-brained - and Homo habilis, a lighter-boned species. Homo habilis had a bigger brain and was more in sync with our human evolutionary tree, according to Ashley.


Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2016-03-early-human-habitat-recreated-life.html#jCp

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