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      Stratigraphic placement and age of modern humans from Kibish, Ethiopia

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          Abstract

          In 1967 the Kibish Formation in southern Ethiopia yielded hominid cranial remains identified as early anatomically modern humans, assigned to Homo sapiens. However, the provenance and age of the fossils have been much debated. Here we confirm that the Omo I and Omo II hominid fossils are from similar stratigraphic levels in Member I of the Kibish Formation, despite the view that Omo I is more modern in appearance than Omo II. 40Ar/39Ar ages on feldspar crystals from pumice clasts within a tuff in Member I below the hominid levels place an older limit of 198 +/- 14 kyr (weighted mean age 196 +/- 2 kyr) on the hominids. A younger age limit of 104 +/- 7 kyr is provided by feldspars from pumice clasts in a Member III tuff. Geological evidence indicates rapid deposition of each member of the Kibish Formation. Isotopic ages on the Kibish Formation correspond to ages of Mediterranean sapropels, which reflect increased flow of the Nile River, and necessarily increased flow of the Omo River. Thus the 40Ar/39Ar age measurements, together with the sapropel correlations, indicate that the hominid fossils have an age close to the older limit. Our preferred estimate of the age of the Kibish hominids is 195 +/- 5 kyr, making them the earliest well-dated anatomically modern humans yet described.

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          Most cited references 17

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          Evaluation of the Plio-Pleistocene astronomical timescale

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            Radiocarbon dating of East african lake levels.

            The fluctuations of the key East African lakes discussed are summarized in Fig. 4 which also includes the available evidence from Lake Rukwa (42) and Lake Chad (43) Exceot for Lake Victoria, all of these now lack surface outlets and are situated in much drier climates than the major lakes of the Western Rift Valley, which remain filled to their overflow levels. The apparent differendes among the fluctuations of the lakes are partly due to differendes in the nature of the evidence or the intensity of research or both, although there must also have been important local differences in the histories of the lakes Yet the consistencies are far more striking, most notably the coincidence of early Holocene high stands. Between 10,000 and 8,000 years ago, it seems that lakes in many parts of tropical Africa were greatly enlarged. Where evidence for the previous span of time is well resolved, it appears that transgressions leading to this high stand began about 12,000 years ago, and evidende from three basins (Victoria, Nakuru, and Chad) indicates a pause or minor recession just at or before 10,000 years ago. Wherever information is available for the period preceding 12,000 years ago, it can consistentlybe shown that lakes were much small-er . Several basins (Rudolf, Nakuru, and Chad) also show traces of much earlier phases of lake expansion. which are not yet well dated but which all occurred more then 20,000 years ago. The Holocene record subsequent to the maximum of 10,00 to 8,000 years ago is more complex. Three basins (Rudolf, Nakuru, and Chad) show an apparently concordant, positive oscillation at some point between 6000 and 4000 years ago, but it is uncertain how widely this episode is represented. Although many of these lakes that are now closed filled to overflowing at least once during the late Quaternary, it is evident from Fig. 4 that the periods of expansion were short-lived compared with phases of contraction to levels near those of today. This pattern may be in accord with fragmentary evidence from lower and middle Pleistocene formations, such as those of Olduvai(44)and Paninj (45), within which some relatively short-term lake expansions can be documented, but which lack evidence for any marked long-term departure from a balance of evaporation and precipitation similar to the present one Further, this pattern of brief moist pulsations, with a duration of perhaps 2000 to 5000 years, is also suggested by other late Pleistocene and Holocene sequences (based primarily on geomorphological and palynological evidence) from the Saharan area, Angola, and South Africa (46). In default of radiometric dating, such complex successions of relatively brief moist intervals provide few stratigraphic markers of broad applicability. This, together with the fact that vegetation, weathering processes, montane glaciers, lake size, lake salinity, and so forth are all likely to reflect the diverse aspects of Climatic change differently, underscores the strictures of Cooke (2) and Flint (3) against the use of pluvials and intrlvasas a basis for subdividing Quaternary time in Africa. Positive correlations between high-latitude glacial advances or maxima and intervals of high lake levels have been demonstrated or suggested for many areas of mid-latitude North America and Eurasia (47), and similar patterns have often been regarded as probable for tropical Africa as well. However, the evidence summarized above shows a notable lack of such correlations for the tropical lakes considered here. If glaciation and tropical lake levels were connected at all, then a far more complex-delayed, multiplefactor, or inverse-relationship must be sought for the late Quaternary (48). This renders the introduction of new climato-stratigraphic terms such as hypothermal and interstadial (49) of questionable value in East Africa. Further, whereas the so-called pluvial lakes of higher latitudes were probably due primarily to reduced evaporation (50), our computations for the early Holocene lakes Nakuru and Naivasha, as well as for the oscillations of Lake Rudolf and Lake Victoria in recent decades, suggest that many or most of the high tropical lake levels where associated with a modest but significant increase in precipitation.
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              Stratigraphic, chronological and behavioural contexts of Pleistocene Homo sapiens from Middle Awash, Ethiopia.

              Clarifying the geographic, environmental and behavioural contexts in which the emergence of anatomically modern Homo sapiens occurred has proved difficult, particularly because Africa lacked adequate geochronological, palaeontological and archaeological evidence. The discovery of anatomically modern Homo sapiens fossils at Herto, Ethiopia, changes this. Here we report on stratigraphically associated Late Middle Pleistocene artefacts and fossils from fluvial and lake margin sandstones of the Upper Herto Member of the Bouri Formation, Middle Awash, Afar Rift, Ethiopia. The fossils and artefacts are dated between 160,000 and 154,000 years ago by precise age determinations using the 40Ar/39Ar method. The archaeological assemblages contain elements of both Acheulean and Middle Stone Age technocomplexes. Associated faunal remains indicate repeated, systematic butchery of hippopotamus carcasses. Contemporary adult and juvenile Homo sapiens fossil crania manifest bone modifications indicative of deliberate mortuary practices.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Nature
                Nature
                Springer Science and Business Media LLC
                0028-0836
                1476-4687
                February 2005
                February 2005
                : 433
                : 7027
                : 733-736
                Article
                10.1038/nature03258
                15716951
                © 2005

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