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Reconstructing past landscapes to understand the hunting techniques of primitive man

Using ancient landform modeling techniques developed at the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (CNRS, Paris Diderot, Sorbonne Paris Cité), an international team has reconstructed the topographical features of the landscape that enabled the first hominids to use stalking techniques in the Kenyan rift around a million years ago. This study is published in Nature Scientific Reports.

Reconstructing past landscapes to understand the hunting techniques of primitive man

Publication date: 17/12/2015

Research

Related themes : Origins

Previous studies have revealed a large number of Acheulean-style axes at the Olorgesailie site (Kenya). These stone tools have long been associated with the hunting and butchering of large game animals, and therefore indicate that the site was frequented by primitive man.

This site, in the south of the rift, attracted large animals such as spotted hyenas, elephants and baboons due to the abundance of fresh water from an ancient lake, the quantity of food available and the low presence of predators in the region. However, because of the peculiarities of the landscape, the movement of these animals was restricted to a few paths. The tectonists and anthropologists in this study have highlighted the paths that the animals took and that the first humans knew about in order to carry out their ambushes.

During the Pleistocene, volcanic activity, earthquakes and climate change caused the region’s landscape to change significantly. Using modelling techniques, the researchers have recreated the landscape as it would have been when the site was being exploited, showing how the primitive people of the region might have used it to their advantage.

The landscape modelling and interpretation techniques use methods developed at the IPGP in the Tectonics and Mechanics of the Lithosphere team for the study of earthquakes and volcanoes. By reconstructing topographical data and examining traces of food in the soil, the researchers have reconstructed the movements of animals as they might have existed a million years ago.

At the time, the landscape of the Olorgesailie region was particularly suitable for setting up ambushes, as the paths taken by the animals were visible from elevated vantage points and the animals had very few paths to choose from in the surrounding area.

The scientists also found that the large number of rocks that could be used to make tools and a reliable source of drinking water made the region ideal for the settlement of primitive humans.

The researchers involved in this discovery hope that the site, and others like it, will be the subject of new landscape-based studies for the assessment and interpretation of ancestral behaviour.

Note(s): Pleistocene: 2.58 million years to 11,700 years before present.

Ref : Animal movements in the Kenya Rift and evidence for the earliest ambush hunting by hominins, Simon Kübler, Peter Owenga, Sally C. Reynolds, Stephen M. Rucina & Geoffrey C. P. King – Scientific reports 15/06/2016

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