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River-fed wetland palaeovegetation and palaeoecology at the HWK W site, Bed I, Olduvai Gorge
- Albert, R.M., Bamford, M.K., Stanistreet, I.G., Stollhofen, H., Rivera-Rondón, Carlos A., Njau, J.K., Blumenschine, R.J.
- Review of palaeobotany and palynology 2018 v.259 pp. 223-241
- Bacillariophyceae, C3 plants, C4 plants, Cyperaceae, Hippopotamus, Homo, Typha, crocodiles, cutting, drought, fauna, food plants, fossils, freshwater, fruits, grasses, herbivores, landscapes, paleoecology, phytoliths, predators, rhizomes, sandstone, trees, tuff, vegetation, wetlands, Tanzania
- Palaeolandscape studies are an essential tool for understanding adaptation and use of plant- and water-related affordances by hominins. A number of high-resolution palaeolandscape analyses have been carried out at Olduvai Gorge (northern Tanzania) over the last two decades but none have focused on the Tuff ID-IE stratigraphic interval (1.83–1.84 Ma). At locality HWK W, this interval presents earthy facies, including siliceous earth, earthy claystone, sandy earth, and earthy sandstone facies varieties, which are rare for Bed I. These facies have been interpreted at other stratigraphic levels to represent densely vegetated wetlands. Additionally, the HWK W site has yielded quantities of fossil bone and tools eroding to the surface. Within the Tuff ID-IE interval, and during regression periods of Palaeolake Olduvai, fluvial and wetland facies were deposited. During this period, the phytoliths and plant macrofossils show that the vegetation was dominated by palms, associated with a mix of C3 and C4 grasses as well as sedges. The variation in phytolith types within these facies implies a locally diverse palaeoenvironmental micro-mosaic, with stacked transgressive sequences, varying from vegetated fluvial channels to vegetated levées and then backswamp subenvironments. Diatoms are particularly rich at Trench T155 and are associated with sponge spicules, indicating the presence of freshwater palaeowetlands with clear water. The extensive diatom valve fragmentation and the differences among trenches suggest that the diatom depositional environment was a heterogeneous river-fed palaeowetland or a vegetated fluvial channel affected by periodic droughts. A diverse fauna was recovered, comprising autochthonous hippopotamus and crocodile elements as well as herbivores drawn to the freshwater resource. Oldowan lithic artifacts were also recovered and some bone was processed through percussion and cutting by early hominins, likely Homo habilis. Overall, the first landscape reconstruction undertaken at HWK W locality during the Tuff ID-IE interval shows a dynamic and richly vegetated area that would have provided hominins with fresh water, scavengeable carcasses, as well as with edible plant affordances (palm fruits, starch-rich rhizomes from sedges and Typha). The presence of palms suggests the area supported a diversity of trees, affording hominins refuge from predators.