Comparing the expansions of Middle Stone Age and Middle Palaeolithic populations in East Africa and South Asia

Tea break during my excavations at Katoati in Rajasthan.

Fossil and genetic studies on the origins and expansions of modern humans reveal an increasingly complex mosaic, including regionally structured populations within Africa, and numerous expansions into Eurasia resulting in multiple episodes of interbreeding with other hominins.

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Until recently, East Africa preserved the oldest fossil evidence for Homo sapiens, but it remains a key region to explore the emergence of modern
humans as a crossroads for interactions of structured populations within Africa and providing access to routes beyond. In contrast, South Asia is the last major region of Eurasia to present fossil evidence for the arrival of Homo sapiens, despite a similarly pivotal role in putative routes of expansion across Asia. These two regions share a broadly similar size, a coastline on the Indian ocean and a comparable range of habitats, but distinct differences in the evolution of behaviour evident in the archaeological record. In the first part of my talk, I will examine behavioural diversity within the Middle Stone Age of East Africa, based upon a comprehensive synthesis of the archaeological literature and the application of a quantitative approach. This identifies aspects of continuity throughout the MSA, as well as pulses of behavioural diversification, both regarding packages of lithic technology and landscape colonisation. In the second part of my talk, I will focus more broadly on the culture history of South Asia to examine modern human dispersal. With respect to the most current evidence, it appears modern humans used Middle Palaeolithic toolkits to colonise South Asia during MIS 5. In conclusion, I will argue that examinations of human expansion and behavioural variability need to be rooted within a biogeographic framework.

Event Information:

Date, Time:23/04/2018, 16:00 h – 17:00 h

Location: Kleiner Hörsaal der Geologie (310a), Zülpicher Straße 49, Cologne

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40Ar/39Ar dating of Plio-Pleistocene Drill Cores from East Africa

East Africa provides the opportunity to acquire unique evidence toward understanding the influence of climate and environmental change on the evolution of the human lineage and technology during the Plio-Pleistocene. The Hominin Sites and Paleolakes Drilling Project (HSPDP) has extracted a total of 2 km of sediment drill core from the Rift Valley of East Africa, in paleolake basins adjacent to fossil hominin and archaeological sites of major significance. 40Ar/39Ar dating and chronology modeling of four of these sites will be discussed. Sites in the southern Kenya Rift will be compared to outcrop geology of the Olorgesailie area, which exhibits some of the earliest Middle Stone Age archaeology.

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Alan Deino, Berkeley Geochronology Center, California.

Alan Deino is a geochronologist at the Berkeley Geochronology Center, Berkeley, California. His career has been devoted to the application of the 40Ar/39Ar dating method to problems of volcanology, tectonics, climate change, faunal evolution, and hominin origins on several continents, but with recurring emphasis on East Africa.




Date: 14/06/2017, 16:00 h – 17:00 h

Location: Room 0.40, Biozentrum (Building 301), Zülpicher Str. 47a, Cologne
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10th Martin Schwarzbach Colloquium


15.00 – 15.10h:        Ansgar Büschges
(Dean of Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, University of Cologne)

Words of Welcome in Honour of Martin Schwarzbach

15.10 – 15.30h:        Bettina Adenauer-Bieberstein
(Honorary Consul of Iceland in Cologne)

“Martin Schwarzbach and his special relation to Iceland”

15.30 – 16.30h:        Rick Potts

Potts“The Environmental Dynamics of Human Evolution” 

East Africa is the source of much information about the evolution of early human ancestors. A synthesis of East African environmental data suggests that significant events in human origins typically developed during lengthy eras of strong climate fluctuation. Analysis of Earth’s orbital dynamics offers a model of alternating high and low climate variability over the past 5 million years.

This high/low variability model shows that fluctuations between arid and moist climate were important in the evolution of key human adaptations. The origin of the major early human lineages, critical transitions in stone technology, and the main geographic milestones in human origins all appear to coincide with prolonged intervals of intense climate variability. Climate dynamics and resource uncertainty likely shaped the adaptive versatility of our species, expressed by the expansion of mobile technologies, symbolic behavior, social networks, and behavioral diversity. Long climate sequences obtained by drilling in the East African Rift Valley, including near the site of Olorgesailie, Kenya, will test these ideas about the significance of adaptability in the origin of our species.

16.30 – 16.45h: Coffee Break

16.45 – 17.45h:        Mark Maslin

Mark Maslin“The Cradle of Humanity: How the changing landscape of Africa made us smart”

Current evidence suggests that all of the major events in hominin evolution have occurred in East Africa. Over the last two decades, there has been intensive work undertaken to understand African palaeoclimate and tectonics in order to put together a coherent picture of how the environment of East Africa has varied in the past. The landscape of East Africa has altered dramatically over the last 10 million years. It has changed from a relatively flat, homogenous region covered with mixed tropical forest, to a varied and heterogeneous environment, with mountains over 4 km high and vegetation ranging from desert to cloud forest.

The progressive rifting of East Africa has also generated numerous lake basins, which are highly sensitive to changes in the local precipitation-evaporation regime. There is now evidence that the rapid oscillation between the presence and absence of deep-water lakes in East Africa were concurrent with major events in hominin evolution. It seems the unusual geology and climate of East Africa created periods of highly variable local climate, which, it has been suggested could have driven hominin speciation, brain expansion and dispersal out of Africa. One example is the significant hominin speciation and brain expansion event at ~1.8 million years ago that seems to have been coeval with the occurrence of highly variable, extensive, deep-water lakes. This complex, climatically very variable setting inspired the pulsed climate variability hypothesis that suggests the long-term drying trend in East Africa was punctuated by episodes of short, alternating periods of extreme humidity and aridity. The fundamental question, however, remains how much did variations in the landscape versus social factors influence the 80% expansion of brain capacity and the dispersal out of Africa at 1.8 million years ago.

17.45h:         Get Together (incl. Snacks & Drinks)

If you are interested in attending, please reserve a seat using our online booking system or send an email to the IRTG Office till April 18, 2016.

Event Information:

Date, Time: 29/04/2016, 15:00 h – 19:00 h

Location: Geo-/Bio-Hörsaal, Zülpicher Str. 49a, Cologne

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