Mathew Fox, PhD candidate from the University of Arizona, was awarded a Leakey Foundation Research Grant during our spring 2016 cycle for his project entitled “Paleoenvironments of Homo erectus occupations in the Luonan Basin, China.”
Many researchers consider one of the most pressing concerns in paleoanthropological research is the reconstruction of Homo erectus dispersals Out-of-Africa and the colonization of the Eurasian continent approximately 1.8 million years ago (Ma). Scientists also argue that the reconstruction of the ancient climates associated with early hominin occupations in Eurasia helps us understand the development of unique Paleolithic traditions and local adaptations.
Our research aims to investigate the ancient climates and ecosystems associated with some of the earliest Homo erectus occupations in central China, which appears to represent an important epicenter of hominin activity for over a million years. Located in the Qinling Mountains of central China, the Luonan and Hanzhong Basins contain some of the earliest Paleolithic sites in Eastern Eurasia dating to approximately 1.2 Ma. As a consequence, these areas are considered extremely important in understanding when our ancestors reached the interior of Asia and what sort of local adaptions they developed. Since climates and ecosystems in the region are intimately tied to variations in the East Asian Monsoon, this research is specifically concerned with the examination of how monsoonal variability may have affected Homo erectus environments and Paleolithic traditions. Through the use of isotopic geochemistry and quantitative soil and sediment characterizations, this interdisciplinary research aims to develop vegetation histories and a paleoenvironmental framework that will help explain the conditions associated with some of Asia’s earliest hominin colonists.