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Groundwater Access Ensured Hominin Survival

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Our ancient ancestors’ ability to move around and find new sources of groundwater during extremely dry periods in Africa millions of years ago may have ensured their survival and the evolution of the human species, according to research published in PLOS ONE.

Geological evidence from the Olduvai sedimentary basin in Northern Tanzania, which formed about 2.2 million years ago, and the results from hydrological modelling revealed that while water in rivers and lakes would have disappeared as the climate changed, freshwater springs fed by groundwater could have stayed active for up to 1000 years without rainfall.

Potable water in rivers or lakes in the region is likely to have been scarce due to salinity, drought and the short-lived flow of streams. “Springs and groundwater-fed habitats could have played a decisive role in the survival and dispersal of hominins in times when potable surface water was limited,” says lead author Dr Mark Cuthbert of The University of NSW’s Connected Waters Initiative and The University of Birmingham.

Geological evidence indicates that the springs were active during the driest periods of climate fluctuations around 1.8 million years ago, a critical period for hominin evolution. Modelling by the researchers also showed that Olduvai’s springs may have stayed active for hundreds of years without rainfall.

“As surface...

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