Date(s) - February 15, 2019
4:00 pm - 5:30 pm
Localized paleoecology of the Plio-Pleistocene:
A context for African multiregionalism
Paleoanthropologists searching for the earliest fossil evidence of our species, Homo sapiens, have typically assumed that they were looking for a single place at a single point in time. Recent fossil and behavioral discoveries, along with advances in genetic and paleoecological analyses, have shed significant doubt on the single population model of human evolution. Instead the evidence suggests African multiregionalism whereby our ancestors evolved as parts of interconnected groups throughout Africa with social and exchange networks whose connectivity changed over time during the middle and late Pleistocene. The structure and formation of these social and exchange networks, particularly the role of environmental and habitat contexts, are poorly understood. Through the use of local, site-specific faunal carbon and oxygen stable isotope analyses from multiple Middle and Later Stone Age sites I provide a context for African multiregionalism. I use these spatially explicit data to map and assess the spatiotemporal nature of potential migration and mixing corridors in the middle and late Pleistocene. I have begun to test for social and exchange networks in these corridors through the geochemical analyses of ochre and shell artifacts which show movement across the landscape. Understanding how and why different populations of hominins interacted in the process of human evolution within an African multiregionalism framework requires that we think of sites not as individual entities at a single point in time on the landscape, but as part of a network that was constantly shaped by ongoing ecological processes.
About the Speaker
Joshua Robinson is a biological anthropologist with research interests in the paleoecological context of Plio-Pleistocene biological and behavioral adaptations of the human lineage. He has conducted fieldwork and museum research across eastern and southern Africa, including in Kenya, Ethiopia, Zambia, and South Africa. He is currently involved in two major projects. First, as a research member of the Ledi-Geraru Paleoanthropology Research Project in Ethiopia he maintains the fossil and geological geospatial database and reconstructs the ancient environments and diets of early members of the genus Homo. Second, Dr. Robinson is examining the behavioral transition from the Middle to the Later Stone Age during the late Pleistocene in southern Africa. The Middle and Later Stone Ages are a critical period of human evolution where various populations of Homo sapiens, as well as other transitional or archaic hominins, likely exchanged genes, ideas, and technology. He examines the ecological contexts of these key morphological and behavioral transitions through the geochemical analysis of fossil animal and human tooth enamel to develop records of what they ate and drank in the past. Dr. Robinson has published his research in the Journal of Human Evolution, the Journal of Archaeological Science, and Nature Ecology and Evolution.