Ancient ape-men lived near quake regions

2011-03-04 22:58
Cape Town - Our earliest ancestors liked living in areas where the earth moved, according to the findings of an international team of scientists.

In a paper published in the latest issue of the Journal of Human Evolution, lead author and Wits palaeoanthropologist Dr Sally Reynolds said the landscapes created around tectonic fault zones were favoured by ancient ape-man, including southern Africa's Australopithecines.

Titled Landscapes and their Relation to Hominin Habitats: Case Studies from Australopithecus sites in Eastern and Southern Africa, the paper says such sites were "often on active tectonic faults in areas that have an earthquake risk or volcanoes, or both".

In a statement on Friday, the University of the Witwatersrand said a four-year study - by Reynolds, Prof Geoff Bailey (University of New York) and Prof Geoffrey King (Institut de Physique Du Globe, Paris) - had examined landscapes around ancient southern African sites.

It quotes Reynolds as saying the team was "stunned" by the similarity of landscape features at different hominin sites.

Scientific evidence

"We were stunned when... Professor King and I discovered evidence that hominin sites such as Taung, Sterkfontein and Makapansgat, show landscape features in combinations that are not random, but result from tectonic motions, such as earthquakes."

Scientific evidence suggested that Australopithecus africanus, like the "Mrs Ples" fossil from Sterkfontein, was adapted to mixed, or mosaic habitats - landscapes with trees and open grassland, with some wetland marshy areas.

The study suggests this type of landscape was created by tectonic earth movements near rivers or lakes.

"These features - including cliffs, sedimented valleys, river gorges and drier plateau areas in close proximity of about 10km - are created when sections of the earth's crust move in response to pressure, then blocks of land are lifted up, while others are forced downward."

Reynolds said our hominin ancestors would have been unaware of the tectonic influence on their habitats, but instead would have been attracted by the range of food and shelter they offered.

"The combination of drinking water, steep cliffs that provided shelter from predators, together with a range of feeding sources constitute the key ingredients for an ideal habitat for our ancestors," she said.

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