Isotopic Evidence for Neogene Hominid Paleoenvironments in the Kenya Rift Valley

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Science  13 May 1994:
Vol. 264, Issue 5161, pp. 955-959
DOI: 10.1126/science.264.5161.955


Bipedality, the definitive characteristic of the earliest hominids, has been regarded as an adaptive response to a transition from forested to more-open habitats in East Africa sometime between 12 million and 5 million years ago. Analyses of the stable carbon isotopic composition (δ13C) of paleosol carbonate and organic matter from the Tugen Hills succession in Kenya indicate that a heterogeneous environment with a mix of C3 and C4 plants has persisted for the last 15.5 million years. Open grasslands at no time dominated this portion of the rift valley. The observed δ13C values offer no evidence for a shift from more-closed C3 environments to C4 grassland habitats. If hominids evolved in East Africa during the Late Miocene, they did so in an ecologically diverse setting.

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