Lateral variations in whole-rock and clay geochemistry of basal Bed II claystones in Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, reflect water quality differences across the Eastern Lacustrine Plain ∼1.75 myr ago. Bulk Ba/Sr and (Na2O+K2O+MgO)/Al2O3 range from 1.4 to 4.2 and from 0.7 to 1.4, respectively, and indicate leaching of lacustrine claystones beneath freshwater wetlands at times following lake retreat. Bulk MgO/Al2O3 (0.3–1.0) and molar Mg/Al (0.5–3.9) ratios of <0.2-μm clays reflect alteration of Mg-rich lacustrine clays. These indicators point to freshest conditions near Locality 43 of Hay (1976; HWK-East; Leakey, 1971), moderate conditions to the east (Locality 40-MCK), and high salinity and alkalinity to the west (Localities 85-VEK, 45-FLK).
Clay geochemistry and artifact abundances are well correlated (r=−0.67, p<0.005), suggesting a relationship between paleo-water quality and hominid paleoecology. This pattern is consistent with predictions of greatest artifact discard/loss around freshwater sources where scavanging opportunities were greatest for hominids. This quantifies a relationship between artifact density distribution and a paleoecological proxy over landscape scales for the first time in Early Stone Age archaeology. In contrast, fossil bone abundance is uncorrelated (r=0.14, p=0.6), reflecting more complex taphonomic processes. Quantitative tests of landscape-scale land-use models are important for understanding early hominid behavior and its evolution.