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Geological and palaeontological context of a Pliocene juvenile hominin at Dikika, Ethiopia

Abstract

Since 1999, the Dikika Research Project (DRP; initiated by Z.A.) has conducted surveys and excavations in badlands that expose Pliocene and Pleistocene sediments south of the Awash River in Ethiopia, between surrounding hominin localities at Hadar1, Gona2 and the Middle Awash region3. Here we report our geological mapping and stratigraphic measurement of the DRP area, and the context of a remarkably well-preserved skeleton of the earliest known juvenile hominin at the Dikika DIK-1 locality4. Our mapping of the DRP area permits a complete definition of the hominin-bearing Hadar Formation and provides a cohesive structural and tectonic framework defining its relationships to adjacent strata. Our findings reveal the basin-scale tectonic, depositional and palaeoenvironmental history of the area, as well as a clear taphonomic and palaeontological context for the juvenile hominin. Such data are crucial for understanding the environmental context of human evolution5,6, and can be integrated into larger-scale tectonic and palaeoenvironmental studies7,8. Our basin-scale approach to palaeoenvironments provides a means to elucidate the complex geological history occurring at the scale of temporally and geographically controlled fossil point localities3,9,10,11, which occur within the rich tectonic and depositional history of the Awash Valley.

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Figure 1: Maps of the Afar region and of Dikika Research Project area.
Figure 2: Stratigraphy of the Hadar Formation in the Dikika Research Project area.

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Acknowledgements

We thank J. Haile-Mariam of the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage, and the Afar Regional State for research permission; and G. Assefa and H. Habtemichael for aid in the field. This work would not be possible without the assistance of the many Issa field crew, as well as logistical support from M. Mekonnen, H. Defar, A. Zerihun, A. Takele, A. Kiros. We also thank J.-C. Rage for snake identification, and K. Reed and G. Eck for access to the Hadar catalogue and collections. This research was funded by the National Geographic Society with logistical support from the Institute for Human Origins and the Ministère des Affaires Etrangères. Stable isotope analyses were performed at RSES, Australian National University, Canberra and at FEEA Stable Isotope Laboratory, St. Andrews. Tephrostratigraphic chemical analyses were performed at the University of Oregon Microprobe Laboratory, Eugene, with funds from the Baldwin Memorial Fund. Author Contributions J.G.W. was the project geologist. D.C.R. did tephrostratigraphy. Fauna were analysed by Z.A. (head of project and palaeoanthropology), R.B. (palaeoenvironments), D.G. (biostratigraphy) and D.R. (micromammals).

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Correspondence to Jonathan G. Wynn.

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Supplementary Table 1

This Supplementary Table presents average chemical analyses of correlated Hadar Formation tephras from the Dikika area. Analyses have been normalized to total 100%. EPMA analyses were done at 10-12 keV and 5 nA, using a 5-10 μm beam. Section names correspond to those in Figure 2. (XLS 20 kb)

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Wynn, J., Alemseged, Z., Bobe, R. et al. Geological and palaeontological context of a Pliocene juvenile hominin at Dikika, Ethiopia. Nature 443, 332–336 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature05048

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