Letters to Nature

Nature 423, 747-752 (12 June 2003) | doi:10.1038/nature01670; Received 21 November 2002; Accepted 14 April 2003

Stratigraphic, chronological and behavioural contexts of Pleistocene Homo sapiens from Middle Awash, Ethiopia

J. Desmond Clark1,2, Yonas Beyene3, Giday WoldeGabriel4, William K. Hart5, Paul R. Renne6, Henry Gilbert7, Alban Defleur8, Gen Suwa9, Shigehiro Katoh10, Kenneth R. Ludwig11, Jean-Renaud Boisserie12, Berhane Asfaw13 & Tim D. White6

  1. Department of Anthropology, The University of California, Berkeley, California 94720, USA
  2. Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage, P.O. Box 6686, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  3. EES-6/MS D462, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, Mew Mexico 87545, USA
  4. Department of Geology, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio 45056, USA
  5. Berkeley Geochronology Center, 2455 Ridge Road, Berkeley, California 94709, USA, and Department of Earth and Planetary Science, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720, USA
  6. Department of Integrative Biology and Laboratory for Human Evolutionary Studies, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720, USA
  7. CNRS UMR 6569 du CNRS, Laboratoire d'Anthropologie, Faculté de Médecine, Secteur Nord, Blvd. Pierre Dramart, 13916 Marseille Cedex 20, France
  8. The University Museum, The University of Tokyo, Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0033, Japan
  9. Hyogo Museum of Nature and Human Activities, Yayoigaoka, Sanda 669-1546, Japan
  10. Berkeley Geochronology Center, 2455 Ridge Road, Berkeley, California 94709, USA
  11. CNRS UMR 6046, Université de Poitiers, France
  12. Rift Valley Research Service, P.O. Box 5717, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  13. Deceased

Correspondence to: Tim D. White6 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to T.W. (Email: timwhite@socrates.berkeley.edu).

Clarifying the geographic, environmental and behavioural contexts in which the emergence of anatomically modern Homo sapiens occurred has proved difficult, particularly because Africa lacked adequate geochronological, palaeontological and archaeological evidence. The discovery of anatomically modern Homo sapiens fossils at Herto, Ethiopia1, changes this. Here we report on stratigraphically associated Late Middle Pleistocene artefacts and fossils from fluvial and lake margin sandstones of the Upper Herto Member of the Bouri Formation, Middle Awash, Afar Rift, Ethiopia. The fossils and artefacts are dated between 160,000 and 154,000 years ago by precise age determinations using the 40Ar/39Ar method. The archaeological assemblages contain elements of both Acheulean and Middle Stone Age technocomplexes. Associated faunal remains indicate repeated, systematic butchery of hippopotamus carcasses. Contemporary adult and juvenile Homo sapiens fossil crania manifest bone modifications indicative of deliberate mortuary practices.