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In Africa: Fossil hunting for human ancestors (King's/Cambridge-Africa Seminar)

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  • UserDr Marta Mirazon Lahr (Director of the Duckworth Laboratory) & Professor Robert Foley (Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies). Both speakers are members of the Division of Biological Anthropology, Dept. of Arch. and Anth., C World_link
  • ClockThursday 20 February 2014, 18:00-19:00
  • HouseWine Room, King's College, Cambridge, CB2 1ST.

If you have a question about this talk, please contact Dr Pauline Essah.

Wine will be served from 17:45pm.....

It is now widely accepted that our species, Homo sapiens, evolved in Africa in the last 200,000 years. That is the date of the first fossils from modern humans (found at the northern edge of the Turkana Basin in Ethiopia), as well as of various genetic estimates of the age of our lineage. The archaeological record of that period in Africa is very patchy, but what has been found suggests that those early human populations were changing their behaviours in various ways. However, the paucity of both fossils and archaeological sites in Africa at this critical period means that the processes that led to our evolution and shaped our diversity in Africa through time remain elusive. Major advances in present and palaeo-genomics are providing fascinating insights into the complexities of those processes. Nevertheless, it is the discovery of new well-contextualised fossils and prehistoric tool sets that will really throw light onto our evolutionary history.

The IN-AFRICA Project aims to discover such fossils in East Africa, focusing on the evolution of human diversity in the region. Since 2009, the project has been exploring ancient beaches formed when Lake Turkana was much larger than today during periods of intense precipitation in the tropics. This palaeoshores, located in the southwestern floodplain of the lake, are one of the richest sediments in fossil and archaeological remains yet found. Among our discoveries are hominin and human fossils, a rich fauna that includes extinct taxa, and the remains of a fantastic fishing culture that manufactured barbed harpoons from bone and ivory. The fossils and prehistoric tools from the late Quaternary of West Turkana reveal the complex and dynamic nature of human populations through time, throw light on prehistoric warfare, and human adaptation, and thus help us reconstruct the evolutionary history of our species in Africa.

This talk is part of the Cambridge-Africa Programme series.

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