Environmental dynamics during the onset of the Middle Stone Age in eastern Africa

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Abstract

Development of the African Middle Stone Age (MSA) before 300,000 years ago raises the question of how environmental change influenced the evolution of behaviors characteristic of early Homo sapiens. We used temporally well-constrained sedimentological and paleoenvironmental data to investigate environmental dynamics before and after the appearance of the early MSA in the Olorgesailie basin, Kenya. In contrast to the Acheulean archeological record in the same basin, MSA sites are associated with a markedly different faunal community, more pronounced erosion-deposition cycles, tectonic activity, and enhanced wet-dry variability. Aspects of Acheulean technology in this region imply that, as early as 615,000 years ago, greater stone material selectivity and wider resource procurement coincided with an increased pace of land-lake fluctuation, potentially anticipating the adaptability of MSA hominins.

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