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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Open Access articles citing this article.
Nature Open Access 12 January 2022
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.90 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
White, T. D. et al. Pleistocene Homo sapiens from Middle Awash, Ethiopia. Nature 423, 742–747 (2003)
Asfaw, B. et al. Australopithecus garhi: A new species of early hominid from Ethiopia. Science 284, 629–635 (1999)
Asfaw, B. et al. Remains of Homo erectus from Bouri, Middle Awash, Ethiopia. Nature 416, 317–320 (2002)
DeHeinzelin, J., Clark, J. D., Schick, K. D. & Gilbert, W. H (eds) The Acheulean and the Plio-Pleistocene Deposits of the Middle Awash Valley, Ethiopia (Royal Museum of Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium; Ann. Sci. Geol. 104, 2000).
Katoh, S., Nagaoka, S., WoldeGabriel, G., Beyene, Y. & Suwa, G. Preliminary study on geomorphological development since the early Pleistocene in Konso-Gardula area (KGA), southern Ethiopia. Proc. Gen. Meet. Assoc. Jpn. Geogr. 49, 208–209 (1996)
Howell, F. C. Paleo-demes, species clades, and extinctions in the Pleistocene hominin record. J. Anthropol. Res. 55, 191–243 (1999)
Stringer, C. B. in The Age of the Earth: From 4004 BC to AD 2002 (eds Lewis, C. L. E. & Knell, S. J.) 265–274 (Geological Society of London, Spec. Publ. 190, 2001)
Tryon, C. A. & McBrearty, S. Tephrostratigraphy and the Acheulian to Middle Stone Age transition in the Kapthurin Formation, Kenya. J. Hum. Evol. 42, 211–235 (2002)
Clark, J. D. in A Very Remote Period Indeed: Papers on the Palaeolithic Presented to Derek Roe (eds Milliken, S. & Cook, J.) 1–18 (Oxbow Books, Oxford, 2001)
Hours, F. in Proceedings of the Seventh Panafrican Congress of Prehistory and Quaternary Studies, 1971, Addis Ababa (eds Abebe, B., Chavaillon, J. & Sutton, J. E. G.) 99–104 (Ministry of Culture, Addis Ababa, 1976)
Chavaillion, J., Chavaillon, N., Hours, F. & Piperno, M. From the Oldowan to the Middle Stone Age at Melka-Kunturé (Ethiopia): Understanding cultural changes. Quaternaria 21, 87–114 (1979)
Clark, J. D. in Hominid Evolution: Lifestyles and Survival Strategies (ed. Ullrich, H.) 277–292 (Edition Archaea, Berlin, 1999)
White, T. D. Prehistoric Cannibalism at Mancos 5MTUMR-2346 (Princeton Univ. Press, 1992)
White, T. D. & Toth, N. The question of ritual cannibalism at Grotta Guattari. Curr. Anthropol. 32, 118–138 (1991)
Pickering, T., White, T. D. & Toth, N. Cutmarks on a Plio-Pleistocene hominid from Sterkfontein, South Africa. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 111, 579–584 (2000)
White, T. D. Cutmarks on the Bodo cranium: A case of prehistoric defleshing. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 69, 503–550 (2000)
J.D.C., a legend in African archaeology, founded and co-led the Middle Awash project until his death in February 2002. We thank A. Almquist, A. Asfaw, M. Asnake, T. Assebework, D. Brill, J. DeHeinzelin, A. Getty, Y. Haile-Selassie, A.-R. Jaouni, B. Latimer, C. Pehlevan, K. Schick, S. Simpson, P. Snow and Y. Zeleka for fieldwork and analytical studies; the Earth Environmental Sciences Division, Los Alamos National Laboratory, for access to electron microprobe and other support; D. DeGusta, F. C. Howell, C. O. Lovejoy, L. Hlusko, F. Bibi, R. Klein, L. Jellema and E. Vrba for review and/or assistance; and J. Feathers, and J. Westgate and A. Sandhu for assessing the feasibility of luminescence and fission track dating, respectively, on some of the tephra. We thank the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, the Authority for Research and Conservation of the Cultural Heritage, and the National Museum of Ethiopia for permissions; the Afar Regional Government and the Afar people of the Middle Awash, particularly the Bouri–Modaitu community and H. Elema; and many additional individuals for contributions. This research was supported by the NSF (US), the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics (University of California at Los Alamos National Laboratory), and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. Additional financial contributions were made by the Hampton Fund for International Initiatives, Miami University.
The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Clark, J., Beyene, Y., WoldeGabriel, G. et al. Stratigraphic, chronological and behavioural contexts of Pleistocene Homo sapiens from Middle Awash, Ethiopia. Nature 423, 747–752 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature01670
Lithic production strategies during the late Middle Pleistocene at Dali, Shaanxi Province, China: implications for understanding late archaic humans
Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences (2019)