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Climate Biases Fossil Record of Early Humans

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The fossil record of early humans from the Cradle of Humankind caves in South Africa is biased towards periods of drier climate, according to research published in Nature ( This finding suggests there might be gaps in the fossil record, potentially obscuring evolutionary patterns and affecting our understanding of both the habitats and dietary behaviours of early hominins in this region.

The Cradle of Humankind is a World Heritage site north-west of Johannesburg. It’s the world’s richest early hominin site, and home to nearly 40% of all known fossils of our human ancestors. However, the caves have collapsed over the years, making dating of the fossils difficult.

“While the South African record was the first to show Africa as the origin point for humans, the complexity of the caves and difficulty dating them has meant that the South African record has remained hard to interpret,” explained co-author Prof Andy Herries of La Trobe University’s Department of Archaeology and History, who conducted excavations at many of the sites dated in the study.

Instead the researchers measured trace radioactive isotopes in 28 thick “flowstones” – stalactites and stalagmites that form in caverns when flowing waters deposit dissolved minerals. Prof Jon Woodhead of the University of...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.