Emergence and evolution of an early hominid culture in eastern Africa
The project OLD aims at developing a local and regional scale approach of the cultural and environmental dynamics for the 2.8 to 1.8 million years (Ma) time period in eastern Africa, which has seen the emergence and early developments of the Oldowan culture. This period is crucial for our understanding of the early stages of humankind, since it is marked by a range of major environmental, biological, and cultural shifts. The adaptive responses of the hominids to these events still have to be determined at a local scale, which constitutes the main challenge of the project. This challenge will be faced by combining an integrated research program focused on the Shungura Formation in the lower Omo Valley (Ethiopia) with a broader regional overview of the early Oldowan, at the scale of the Eastern African Rift System. Beyond the expected scientific benefits, the project has significant societal and heritage implications. The lower Omo Valley, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, is directly threatened by large-scale agricultural projects. Another major challenge of the project is to develop concrete solutions for combining scientific researches, heritage conservation, and local economic development. <br />The project OLD addresses a number of key issues dealing with the emergence and evolution of the Oldowan in eastern Africa. Based on a limited number of testable hypotheses, our ambition is to propose a new interpretative model involving robust multidisciplinary data. The hypotheses to be tested are: <br /> - the «success« of the Oldowan results from its adaptability to a broad range of environments; <br /> - the Oldowan constitutes the first humankind cumulative cultural expression with its own internal dynamics; <br /> - the Oldowan technological package includes a set of knowledge shared by distant groups at a macro-regional scale.
- Task 1: field data acquisition (P.I. J.-R. Boisserie and A. Delagnes), includes all field operations required by the project, such as surveys, inventory and characterization of the sites, excavations, inventory and characterization of raw material paleosources, georeferencing, and stratigraphic correlations. Field work will imply tight coordination between archeologists, paleontologists, paleoecologists, and geologists.
- Task 2: behaviors, knowledge and technical skills (P.I. A. Delagnes and M. Brenet), focuses on the study of the archeological lithic assemblages and comparative experimental assemblages, as well as on characterization of raw material used for stone-tool manufacturing.
- Task 3: spatial and environmental dynamics (P.I. J.-R. Boisserie and E. Fara), targets the analysis of the climatic, volcanic, tectonic, and biological events occurring in the Shungura Formation between 2.8 My and 1.8 My, in relation with the archeological record from 2.34 Ma. It is by definition a multidisciplinary task, involving geologists, archeologists, paleontologists, paleoenvironment specialists, and GIS specialists.
- Task 4: cultural dynamics (P.I. A. Delagnes and J.-R. Boisserie), establishes the synthesis of tasks 2 and 3 and integrates bioenvironmental data and prehistoric data at a wider spatial and temporal scale, in order to establish a new model for the interpretation of the emergence and evolution of the Oldowan in eastern Africa.
The project OLD has favored a real team dynamic, reflected in a significant scientific production, with a majority of multi-partner publications and conference talks. During the first phase of the project, two academic works have been achieved, one master2 thesis and one PhD thesis (T. Maurin) at the university of Bordeaux, while two new PhD have been initiated, at the university of Bordeaux (A. Galland, topic: functional analysis of the quartz artefacts from the Shungura Formation), and at the university of Poitiers (M. Corbé, topic : sedimentology and geochemistry of the Shungura Formation).
The main results already published are dealing with:
- the analysis of diet and environmental variations among various herbivore taxa (Blondel et al., Pal-Pal-Pal, 2018 ; Martin et al., Scientific Reports, 2018), confirming the occurence of a major shift in vegetation between members E and F, ca. 2.32 My ;
- the description of new post-cranial remains from Australopithecus boisei discovered in Lower G Member, showing persistent arboreal behaviors among these hominis that were already fully biped (Daver et al., Journal of Human Evolution, in press);
- the evidence of a spatial and temporal distribution of the archeological occurrences in Member F that indicates a clear preference of the hominins for riverine habitats (Maurin et al, Journal of Human Evolution, 2017).
This first phase of the project has seen an intensive involvement of the project members in science dissemination, both written and oral. This effort will continue in 2019-2020 through the preparation of a national exhibition at the French National Museum of Prehistory (Les Eyzies-de-Tayac) dedicated to Africa before the first «Out of Africa« event, that will imply several members of the project.
Forthcoming work will include the continuation of all researches performed as part of tasks 1 to 3, as well as starting up studies related to task 4 (cultural dynamics). In this perspective, contacts have been established and permission have been obtained for the comparative analysis of the Early Oldowan assemblages from Gona (Ethiopia), of the early Acheulean and Oldowan assemblages of Konso (Ethiopia), in addition with the Oldowan assemblages from Fejej (Ethiopie) for micro-wear analyses (permission to be confirmed).
1. Maurin T., Bertran P., Delagnes A., Boisserie J.-R., 2017. Early hominin landscape use in the Lower Omo Valley, Ethiopia: insights from the taphonomical analysis of Oldowan occurrences in the Shungura Formation (Member F). Journal of Human Evolution 11
The project OLD aims at developing a local and regional scale approach of the cultural and environmental dynamics for the 2.8 to 1.8 million years (Ma) time period in eastern Africa. This period, which has seen the emergence and early developments of the Oldowan culture, is crucial for our understanding of the early stages of humankind since it is marked by a range of major environmental and biological shifts. The adaptive responses of the hominids to these events still have to be determined at a local scale. This challenge will be faced by combining an integrated research program focused on the Shungura Formation in the lower Omo Valley (Ethiopia) with a broader regional overview of the early Oldowan, at the scale of the Eastern African Rift System.
The project OLD will contribute to the international promotion of the French research in prehistory and paleontology, by focusing on a region that is in the spotlight for all early hominid-related studies and by reinforcing a research field that suffers from a drastic decline in the French research panorama. Beyond the expected scientific benefits, the project has significant societal and heritage implications. The Lower Omo Valley, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, is directly threatened by large-scale agricultural projects. Another major challenge of the project is to develop concrete solutions for combining scientific researches, heritage conservation and local economic development.
Three partners, heavily invested in this research field, are involved in the project: PACEA (CNRS/University of Bordeaux), iPHEP (CNRS/University of Poitiers) and CFEE ("Centre Français des Etudes Ethiopiennes", CNRS/MAEDI, Addis Ababa). The expertise domains of the partners are complementary and cover the whole analytical requirements of the project. PACEA will provide its expertise relative to archeological, lithic, paleontological, geological studies. The iPHEP will be involved in paleontology (vertebrates, including hominids) and environmental reconstructions, the CFEE will contribute to the lithic analyses. The coordinator of the project OLD is Anne Delagnes, who supervises the archeological investigations in the Shungura Formation. The scientific managing of the project will be shared by A. Delagnes (PACEA) and J.-R. Boisserie (iPHEP). The logistic and administrative managing will be performed by the three partners, with a strong involvement of the CFEE for the organization of the missions to and from Ethiopia in relation with the local authorities.
The Project OLD is submitted as part of the generic call for project, to the "Défi 8 : Sociétés innovantes, intégrantes et adaptatives, axe 5 : Cultures, création, patrimoines". The project responds to the objectives of this axis, for both its involvement in the study of long-term cultural and behavioral adaptations of early hominids to changing environments and its implication in the regional policy for this UNESCO heritage preservation. It is planned for a duration of 42 months. The project involves archeologists, geologists, paleontologists, paleoanthropologists and paleoenvironment specialists. The proposed team has been largely operational over the last decade, as part of the OGRE (Omo Group Research Expedition) field program, directed by J.-R. Boisserie in the Shungura Formation. The excellent integration of OGRE in the Ethiopian scientific and institutional context ensures the access to all documentary resources (collections, field) required for the project.
Madame Anne DELAGNES (De la Préhistoire à l'Actuel : Culture, Environnement et Anthropologie)
The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.
PACEA De la Préhistoire à l'Actuel : Culture, Environnement et Anthropologie
iPHEP Institut de paléoprimatologie, paléontologie, humaine ; évolution et paléoenvironnements
CFEE Centre Français des Etudes Ethiopiennes
Help of the ANR 377,515 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2016 - 42 Months