Reconstructing Paleoenvironments at Olorgesaile, Southern Kenya

Andrew Du
By Andrew Du
November 04, 2010

Understanding the environmental context of our human ancestors is the first step to figuring out how and why they evolved. Environmental change through time effects changes in resources available to hominins. Hominins must either adapt and evolve or go extinct.

This past summer, I conducted paleoenvironmental studies at Olorgesailie in collaboration with Drs. Kay Behrensmeyer, Rick Potts, and Briana Pobiner (Smithsonian Institution); Dr. Alison Brooks (George Washington University); Dr. John Yellen (National Science Foundation); and Dr. Bernie Owen (Hong Kong Baptist University). Olorgesailie is a Pleistocene age site located in southern Kenya in the East African Rift Valley. My research aim was to study the sedimentology and stratigraphy of post-Olorgesailie Formation sediments (<500,000 year-old deposits) in order to reconstruct the paleoenvironments hominins inhabited. By studying ancient sediments and comparing them to modern sediments and their associated environments, one can use this analogy to reconstruct past environments. My own study entailed measuring and drawing stratigraphic sections and profiles of relevant sites. Sediment samples were recorded, collected, and brought back to the US for more detailed lab studies such as grain size and mineralogical analyses. At the conclusion of my study, we should have a clearer picture of the environment that the Olorgesailie hominins inhabited. In conjunction with studies of stone tools and cut-marked bones, we will gain a better understanding of hominin lifeways and how they utilized their landscape during prehistoric times.