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A Northeast Saharan Perspective on Environmental Variability in North Africa and its Implications for Modern Human Origins

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Modern Origins

Part of the book series: Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology ((VERT))

Abstract

In this chapter, we recall a record of Saharan dust supply into the eastern Mediterranean Sea (ODP Site 967) to document Middle-Late Pleistocene environmental variations in the Northeast Sahara (NES). Distinctive dust flux minima ca. 330, 285, 240, 215, 195, 170, 125, 100, and 80 ka attest to the expansion of subtropical savannah landscapes throughout the NES during boreal summer insolation maxima, which drove penetration of the West African summer monsoon front up to 25–27ºN. Such “green Sahara” periods broadly correlate with U-series ages of lacustrine and spring carbonates scattered throughout the NES, which are often associated with Acheulean and Mousterian archaeological sites that attest to widespread occupation of the area during pluvial episodes. In contrast, Aterian sites are linked to spring deposits and mountain areas during a prolonged period of hyperarid climate, which suggests adaptation to desert conditions. The Site 967 dust record has important implications for understanding the evolution and population dynamics of modern humans in Africa. Thus, the monsoon-driven alternation of “green Sahara” and hyperarid desert conditions throughout North Africa, combined with similarly paced environmental variations within tropical Africa, provides a favorable scenario for the speciation of H. sapiens, for a gradual accumulation of African modern behaviors as a whole, and for frequent out of Africa dispersals of modern human populations.

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Acknowledgments

I thank Jean-Jacques Hublin and Shannon McPherron, organizers of the meeting “Modern Origins: A North African Perspective” (Leipzig, August 2007) and editors of this volume, for making my attendance to the meeting and the publication of this contribution possible. I am also very grateful to Ana Moreno, who also facilitated my participation in the meeting, and to three anonymous reviewers, whose constructive comments and criticism greatly improved this manuscript. Samples were provided by the ODP, which is sponsored by the U.S. National Science Foundation and participating countries (including the U.K.) under management of Joint Oceanographic Institutions, Inc.

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Larrasoaña, J.C. (2012). A Northeast Saharan Perspective on Environmental Variability in North Africa and its Implications for Modern Human Origins. In: Hublin, JJ., McPherron, S. (eds) Modern Origins. Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-2929-2_2

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