Emma Finestone is a PhD candidate from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She was awarded a Leakey Foundation Research Grant during our spring 2017 cycle for her project entitled “Examining the Oldowan through time on the Homa Peninsula.”
Humans occupy an exceptionally broad and flexible ecological role, capable of inhabiting nearly any terrestrial habitat, altering behavioral strategies in response to changes in the environment, and exploiting a variety of resources for food, shelter, and tools. But beyond occupying broad flexible niches, humans and their ancestors are unique in their ability to modify their environments and shape the selective pressures within them using technology. Thus, the ability of humans and their ancestors to use technology to cope with adaptive problems and the transmission of these technologies over generations is of inherent interest in the evolution of the human lineage.
Because of preservation bias against non-lithic raw materials, the oldest technologies are recognized exclusively from hominin modification of stones. I study the earliest persistent stone tools, termed the “Oldowan,” which appear in East Africa approximately 2.6 million years ago (ma). Oldowan technology would have enabled hominins to readily access nutrient-dense foods and may represent a key behavioral innovation and an adaptive shift in the human lineage. An apparent transition in the archaeological record supports an increase in range size, a greater reliance on tool use and animal butchery, and a broadening of habitats and dietary niches approximately 2 ma. This coincides with known anatomical and environmental modifications in the fossil record, such as increased hominin body mass and metabolic rate, and complex mosaic landscapes incorporating open grasslands and warmer and drier climates. The intensifications of meat consumption and mobility inferred from the archaeological record are thought to relate to these evolutionary trends.
Support research projects like this one. Your donation will be doubled! Click here
My project focuses on the critical but poorly understood time period when Oldowan technology first emerges. I work on the Homa Peninsula in Kenya, where three Oldowan localities (Nyayanga at ca. 2.6 Ma, Kanjera South at ca. 2 Ma, and Sare River at ca. 1.8 Ma) will allow me to compare regional Oldowan hominin behavior across time scales. I will source artifact raw materials using energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence (ED-XRF) geochemical analyses. Elemental signatures will be used to link raw materials used in lithic production with primary outcrops and secondary drainages around the Homa Peninsula to identify raw material sources and determine which outcrops were utilized by hominins and which materials were most heavily reduced. This will allow me to reconstruct ranging behavior, reduction strategies, and landscape use of some of the earliest toolmakers and investigate if transport and mobility increase through time.
My preliminary data suggest a surprisingly high degree of raw material selectivity and transport at 2.6 ma. This would offer the intriguing possibility that complex patterns of raw material selectivity, transport, and mobility occur earlier than expected and may pre-date known trends in hominin anatomical and energetic evolution that have previously been linked to the archaeological record.