new research from southern Kenya

A trifecta of Science papers and a GSA Bulletin paper were just published with results from many years of research on the archaeology, paleontology, geochronology, sedimentology and isotope geochemistry at Olorgesailie in the southern Kenya Rift. Naomi has been working on this project since 2002. It’s exciting that these initial publications are now out. The papers have gotten a lot of press. Here’s a sampling of the coverage:

“Signs of symbolic behavior emerged at the dawn of our species in Africa”  Science magazine. This news article from Science magazine has a good summary of the recent finds and a video about them.

“Colored Pigments and Complex Tools Suggest Humans Were Trading 100,000 Years Earlier Than Previously Believed – Transformations in climate and landscape may have spurred these key technological innovations” Smithsonian Magazine 

Naomi specifically contributed carbon isotope data from soil carbonates to the Potts et al. (2018) paper — note all of the white nodules in the reddish-brown paleosol in the lower steps of the excavation in the photo below. These are the kinds of materials Naomi sampled for isotopic analysis.

There aren’t very many soil carbonates to sample in the Oltulelei Formation, but the carbon isotopes of the carbonates that Naomi was able to analyze  indicate that big changes in vegetation weren’t likely part of this human origins story (see below for Figure 2 from Potts et al. 2018).

This work is ongoing. So stay tuned for more results including a study on the isotopic composition of the teeth of mammals from this big ecological transition and a spate of studies from the cores that were recovered as part of the Olorgesailie Drilling Project, in which Emily, Jessica and Naomi are all involved.





photo credits: Smithsonian Human Origins Program