Dawn of humanity illuminated in special journal edition -- 50 years after the Leakeys

Aug 21, 2012
This is OH 65 Homo habilis Maxilla found by OLAPP. Credit: Wits University

The first systematic, multidisciplinary results to come out of research conducted on the edge of the Serengeti at the rich palaeoanthropological site in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania since that produced by Louis and Mary Leakey's team, have recently been published in a special issue of the prestigious Journal of Human Evolution.

Professor Marion Bamford, deputy director of the Bernard Price Institute for Palaeontological Research, and Professor Ron Clarke from the Institute of – both at the University of the Witwatersrand – contributed papers to the 191-page special edition. Bamford and Clarke's contributions are part of 15 papers by 25 scientists to have come from research conducted by the Olduvai Landscape Paleoanthropology Project (OLAPP) since 1989 and the special edition is entitled Five Decades after Zinjanthropus and habilis: Landscape Paleoanthropology of Plio-Pleistocene Olduvai Gorge, .

"The significance of this special edition is the culmination of the work we have been doing at Olduvai the past two decades and is an impressive range of articles that deals with various aspects of our distant ancestor Homo habilis."

"No one site tells us more about the last two million years of human evolution than Olduvai and with contributing researchers from Wits University, this collaborative work dispels the suppose rift in palaeosciences between East Africa and South Africa," says Professor Robert Blumenschine, guest-editor of the special edition and Chief Scientific Strategist of the Palaeontological Scientific Trust (PAST), based at Wits.

Bamford and Clarke are also associated with and supported by PAST which provides funding to members of the OLAPP team, including to the local excavators and technicians supporting the research in Tanzania.

"The publication celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Leakey-discoveries in 1959 and 1960 of the Zinjanthropus (now known as Paranthropus boisei) and Homo habilis type species. The Leakey's work, spanning five decades until 1984, established Olduvai as the single most important record for hominid biological and technological evolution over the last two million years," Blumenschine says.

Bamford's paper entitled Fossil sedges, microplants, and roots from Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, and her collaborative paper with Rosa Albert entitled Vegetation during UMBI and deposition of Tuff IF at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania (ca. 1.8 Ma) based on phytoliths and plant remains, provide the first systematic report of plant fossils from Olduvai. Together, these papers show the great potential plant fossils hold for high resolution palaeoenvironmental reconstruction of the habitats used by Homo habilis at Olduvai.

Clarke, who has worked closely with the Leakeys in the 1960s, gives in his paper entitled A Homo habilis maxilla and other newly-discovered hominid fossils from Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, a full description of the Olduvai Hominid (OH) 65 palate, the first complete upper dentition of Homo habilis. This specimen provides crucial evidence for redefining Homo habilis.

Clarke also describes the specimen OH 7X, that is the previously missing right second molar of the OH 7 mandible discovered by the Leakeys 46 years earlier, and used by them to originally describe the species Homo habilis.

Explore further: Changing dinosaur tracks spurs novel approach

More information: To view the special issue, visit www.journals.elsevier.com/journal-of-human-evolution/#description

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study to link climate and early human evolution

Oct 12, 2010

Geologists at the University of Liverpool are excavating a two-million-year-old World Heritage Site in Tanzania to understand how climate variations may have contributed to early human evolution.

Did climate change shape human evolution?

Apr 24, 2012

(Phys.org) -- As human ancestors rose on two feet in Africa and began their migrations across the world, the climate around them got warmer, and colder, wetter and drier. The plants and animals they competed ...

New species of early hominid found

Apr 06, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- A previously unknown species of hominid that lived in what is now South Africa around two million years ago has been found in the form of a fossilized skeleton of a child and several bones ...

Handier than Homo habilis?

Sep 08, 2011

The versatile hand of Australopithecus sediba makes a better candidate for an early tool-making hominin than the hand of Homo habilis.

Recommended for you

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

16 hours ago

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

16 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

(Phys.org) —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...