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Changing climate may have pushed early human evolution in Africa

| | November 12, 2015

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It’s been called the cradle of humanity, but the significance of East Africa’s Turkana basin in human history is still unclear. Now some ancient herbivore teeth are revealing the region’s special climate around the time our genus Homo first appeared.

Turkana, part of the Great Rift Valley straddling Kenya and Ethiopia, has been a hallowed site for the study of human evolution ever since Maeve and Richard Leakey began uncovering fossils there in the 1960s. Ranging from Australopithecus to our own species, Homo sapiens, the most striking finds include Turkana boy, a Homo erectus fossil that is the most complete early human skeleton ever found.

By studying fossil teeth from across the region, Mikael Fortelius at the University of Helsinki, Finland, and his team have pieced together a record of the region’s temperature and rainfall that goes back 8 million years – well before early humans first appeared.

Their data show that East Africa as a whole became drier between 3 million and 2 million years ago – the period when our genus Homo first emerged. But the Turkana basin began to dry out earlier.

Fortelius thinks the basin’s early shift meant it could have acted as a “species factory”. Since it was ahead of the trend, new species that evolved there were adapted for the drier environment that later became widespread.

Read full, original post: Did climate change jump-start human evolution in East Africa?

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