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Journal Article

Pliocene hominins from East Turkana were associated with mesic environments in a semiarid basin


Kinyanjui,  Rahab
Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute of Geoanthropology, Max Planck Society;

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Villaseñor, A., Uno, K. T., Kinyanjui, R., Behrensmeyer, A. K., Bobe, R., Advokaat, E. L., et al. (2023). Pliocene hominins from East Turkana were associated with mesic environments in a semiarid basin. Journal of Human Evolution, 180: 103385, pp. 1-19. doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2023.103385.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000D-384E-E
During the middle Pliocene (∼3.8–3.2 Ma), both Australopithecus afarensis and Kenyanthropus platyops are known from the Turkana Basin, but between 3.60 and 3.44 Ma, most hominin fossils are found on the west side of Lake Turkana. Here, we describe a new hominin locality (ET03-166/168, Area 129) from the east side of the lake, in the Lokochot Member of the Koobi Fora Formation (3.60–3.44 Ma). To reconstruct the paleoecology of the locality and its surroundings, we combine information from sedimentology, the relative abundance of associated mammalian fauna, phytoliths, and stable isotopes from plant wax biomarkers, pedogenic carbonates, and fossil tooth enamel. The combined evidence provides a detailed view of the local paleoenvironment occupied by these Pliocene hominins, where a biodiverse community of primates, including hominins, and other mammals inhabited humid, grassy woodlands in a fluvial floodplain setting. Between <3.596 and 3.44 Ma, increases in woody vegetation were, at times, associated with increases in arid-adapted grasses. This suggests that Pliocene vegetation included woody species that were resilient to periods of prolonged aridity, resembling vegetation structure in the Turkana Basin today, where arid-adapted woody plants are a significant component of the ecosystem. Pedogenic carbonates indicate more woody vegetation than other vegetation proxies, possibly due to differences in temporospatial scale and ecological biases in preservation that should be accounted for in future studies. These new hominin fossils and associated multiproxy paleoenvironmental indicators from a single locale through time suggest that early hominin species occupied a wide range of habitats, possibly including wetlands within semiarid landscapes. Local-scale paleoecological evidence from East Turkana supports regional evidence that middle Pliocene eastern Africa may have experienced large-scale, climate-driven periods of aridity. This information extends our understanding of hominin environments beyond the limits of simple wooded, grassy, or mosaic environmental descriptions.