Tectonic Geomorphology and Soil Edaphics as Controls on Animal Migrations and Human Dispersal Patterns

  • Simon Kübler
  • Geoffrey C. P. King
  • Maud H. Devès
  • Robyn H. Inglis
  • Geoff N. Bailey


This chapter examines the relationship between the changing geomorphology of physical land forms in tectonically and volcanically active regions, topography, soil nutrients, movements of large mammals, and patterns of human subsistence and dispersal in the early stages of human evolution. We place particular emphasis on the ways in which minor topographic barriers—for example, river gorges, fault scarps and basaltic lava flows—constrain the movements of large mammals during their seasonal migrations and offer opportunities for early humans to take advantage of predictable natural constrictions to ambush animals. We also emphasise the importance of soil edaphics—the mineral composition of soils as a source of trace elements essential for animal growth and health—as another key variable in determining the distribution and movements of animals and their human hunters. Soil edaphics are closely related to the nature of the underlying regolith or bedrock, and are consequently highly variable in their distribution, providing additional constraints on animal movements. We show how the combination of topographic and soil-edaphic mapping in conjunction with the observed locations of stone-tool or fossil assemblages can highlight patterns of early human behaviour, using examples from the East African and Jordanian Rifts and the Arabian margin of the Red Sea. Finally, we note that these methods have the potential to be applied more widely in other regions of the world and to problems of animal and human health at the present-day.



The research on which this chapter is based was funded by the European Research Council through ERC Advanced Grant 269586 DISPERSE, under the ‘Ideas’ Specific Programme of FP7 to GB and GCPK in 2011. Fieldwork in East Africa was supported by the National Museums of Kenya, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Organisation, the Kenyan National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation, and the British Institute in Eastern Africa. In Saudi Arabia, we thank HRH Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz, President of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTH), other members of SCTH, particularly Professor Ali Al-Ghabban and Dr. Abdullah Al Saud, and Dr. Abdullah Alsharekh of King Saud University, for their support. We also acknowledge additional funding to Robyn Inglis from the British Academy (Arthur Reckitt Fund), the Gerald Averay Wainwright Fund for Near Eastern Archaeology at the University of Oxford, the British Foundation for the Study of Arabia, and the EU Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 660343, “SURFACE: Human-Landscape-Interactions and Global Dispersals: The Surface Record of Palaeolithic Arabia”. The text has also benefited from the comments of three anonymous reviewers. This is DISPERSE contribution number 46 and IPGP Publication No. 3922.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Simon Kübler
    • 1
  • Geoffrey C. P. King
    • 2
  • Maud H. Devès
    • 2
    • 3
  • Robyn H. Inglis
    • 4
    • 5
  • Geoff N. Bailey
    • 4
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of Earth and Environmental SciencesLudwig Maximilians UniversityMunichGermany
  2. 2.Institut de Physique du Globe de ParisParis Cedex 5France
  3. 3.Centre de Recherche Psychanalyse Médecine et Société, CNRS EA 3522—Université Paris DiderotParisFrance
  4. 4.Department of ArchaeologyUniversity of York, King’s ManorYorkUK
  5. 5.Department of Environmental SciencesMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  6. 6.Arts and Social SciencesCollege of Humanities, Flinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia

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