To save content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about saving content to .
To save content items to your Kindle, first ensure email@example.com
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about saving to your Kindle.
Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
This volume provides an overview of paleoenvironmental reconstructions of hundreds of different sites, using dozens of different analytical methods. The intention of this chapter is to bring together some of those data relevant to the sites of southern Africa to highlight future research directions.
Early hominins were not limited to particular sites or localities in a paleontological or archeological sense, but lived and died in complex and dynamic landscapes and ecosystems of which we have partial, incomplete records. The fossil evidence of early hominin paleoenvironments is always limited, sometimes providing brief snapshots of small areas, other times affording very coarse chronological and spatial resolution over large distances. Taphonomic conditions typically vary within any one locality over time, and from one locality to another. And yet, it is these partial and biased records that we use to build an understanding of the forces that have shaped our evolution.
Sterkfontein, in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site (Gauteng Province, South Africa), lies on a low hill overlooking the Blaaubank River, close to numerous other fossil-rich hominin-bearing sites (including Swartkrans, Kromdraai, Drimolen, Malapa, and Cooper’s Cave; Figure 10.1). Lying within the narrow pre-Cambrian Malmani dolomite formation, the caves contain deposits that record the paleoenvironmental context related to hominin evolution from roughly 3.7 million years until the Upper Pleistocene, as well as the hominins themselves (Broom, 1936; Brain, 1981; Kuman, 1994a; Reynolds and Kibii, 2011; Granger et al., 2015; Val and Stratford, 2015; Stratford, 2017).
In a book on African paleoecology and human evolution, it is important to define several key themes, including biomes, vegetation formations and associations, as well as plant physiognomy. We first define these terms, before examining the sources of data employed in paleoenvironmental reconstructions. Finally, we provide an overview of the approaches used to understand past habitats, which underpin the chapters on the specific sites which make use of these approaches to refine our understanding of African paleoenvironments and the place of hominins within them.
In this chapter we review the evidence for hominid paleoenvironments in tropical Africa from the late Miocene to the early Pleistocene (Figure 15.1). Here we use the term hominid to refer to the family of the great apes and humans (family Hominidae, superfamily Hominoidea), and hominin (tribe Hominini) for the clade on the human side of the divergence from our last common ancestor with the genus Pan (Figure 15.2). This review is intended to complement the other regional reviews (northern African and southern African sites, see Chapters 6 and 36, respectively) and the overviews of Miocene to Holocene faunas (late Miocene and early Pliocene by Doman and Goble Early, this volume and Middle Pleistocene to Holocene by Faith, Chapter 5). The methods used in the reconstruction of past environments, e.g., stable isotopes, ecomorphology, community paleoecology, are summarized in Andrews and colleagues (Chapter 2).
Humans evolved in the dynamic landscapes of Africa under conditions of pronounced climatic, geological and environmental change during the past 7 million years. This book brings together detailed records of the paleontological and archaeological sites in Africa that provide the basic evidence for understanding the environments in which we evolved. Chapters cover specific sites, with comprehensive accounts of their geology, paleontology, paleobotany, and their ecological significance for our evolution. Other chapters provide important regional syntheses of past ecological conditions. This book is unique in merging a broad geographic scope (all of Africa) and deep time framework (the past 7 million years) in discussing the geological context and paleontological records of our evolution and that of organisms that evolved alongside our ancestors. It will offer important insights to anyone interested in human evolution, including researchers and graduate students in paleontology, archaeology, anthropology and geology.