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Insights from Earth Sciences into Human Evolution studies: The example of prehistoric landscape use in Africa and the Levant

Abstract : Fossil remains are embedded in a continually evolving landscape. Earth scientists have the methods and approaches to study the processes that shape the landscape at various temporal and spatial scales. Some of these methods can generate insights that are of potential use for researchers in other fields, such as archaeology and palaeoanthropology. Here we present two case studies to illustrate how a broader landscape perspective can provide new insights into the land use by Pliocene hominins in southern Africa, and more recently, by Palaeolithic hominins in the southern Levant. Key landscape attributes can help explain why humans, hominins and the wider animal community exploit certain types of landscapes in predictable ways. Our first case study examines how active tectonics or volcanism appears to be important in creating fertile regions with reliable water sources and complex topography. While relatively easy for agile primates such as hominins to negotiate, zones of complex topography are harder for certain predators and prey animals to traverse. In the second case study, we consider that differences in soil edaphics can exert a major control on animals by supplying or failing to supply necessary trace elements, such as selenium, copper, phosphate and potassium (Henkin et al., 1995). We show that the pattern of trace element distribution can accurately map animal movements between areas of suitable grazing. This predictability could have enabled Levantine humans to ambush megafauna during these seasonal migrations. By studying the landscape attributes around fossil site locations, Earth scientists can offer new insights and perspectives into the past, particularly on the ways in which the inhabitants would have used their landscapes.
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Submitted on : Friday, February 18, 2022 - 11:28:53 AM
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Maud H. Devès, Sally Reynolds, Geoffrey C. P. King, Simon Kuebler, Derek Sturdy, et al.. Insights from Earth Sciences into Human Evolution studies: The example of prehistoric landscape use in Africa and the Levant. Comptes Rendus Géoscience, Elsevier, 2015, 347, pp.201-211. ⟨10.1016/j.crte.2015.02.012⟩. ⟨insu-03579747⟩



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