Prehistoric and historic archaeology
When primeval man ﬁrst used ﬂint stones for any purpose, he would have accidentally splintered them, and would then have used the sharp fragments. From this step it would be a small one to break the ﬂints on purpose and not a very wide step to fashion them rudely.Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man
Tool use is a fundamental human behavior, but even Darwin would have been surprised to learn just how ancient this adaptation is. In the 1990's, CHES archaeologists reported their discovery of the world’s oldest stone tools dated to 2.6 million years ago, found in the Gona River basin of the Hadar region of Ethiopia. Currently, CHES scientists are directing archaeological research at two of the world’s most prominent sites for the investigation of human origins and ancestral behavioral patterns: Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania and East Lake Turkana in Kenya. All of this work is docu menting the feeding and ranging ecology of the earliest members of the genus Homo. The archaeological legacies of these early ancestors reveal the genesis and development of core human traits, such as dependence on technology, meat-eating from large animals, and the beginning of signiﬁcant increases in brain size.
In each great region of the world the living mammals are closely related to the extinct species of the same region. It is therefore probable that Africa was formerly inhabited by extinct apes closely allied to the gorilla and chimpanzee; and as these two species are now man's nearest allies, it is somewhat more probable that our early progenitors lived on the African continent than elsewhere.Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man
Fossil discoveries are conﬁrming Darwin’s hunch that Africa was the cradle of humankind. CHES physical anthropologists have aggressively explored our fundamental human roots and the human family tree, and the evolution of human form. To learn more about ancestral behavior from the disembodied fossil bones paleontologists have found, CHES scientists have conducted experimental studies of bone growth and bone responses to stress from activities such as chewing, breathing and locomotion. The endeavor encompasses a vast sweep of geological time, from the biological communities in which our twenty million-year-old ape-like ancestors lived, to the appearance of anatomically modern humans about one hundred thousand years ago.
I look at the geological record as a history of the world imperfectly kept, and written in hanging dialect; of this history we possess the last volume alone. ... Of this volume, only here and there a short chapter has been preserved; and of each page, only here and there a few lines. Each word of the slowly-changing language, more or less different in the successive chapters, may represent the forms of life, which are entombed in our consecutive [geological] formations...Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man
Our knowledge of the geological record of human evolution has improved dramatically since Darwin’s time. There is an ever more reﬁned chronology for the sediments in which hominid fossils and stone artifacts are buried. Geologists are also describing in ever greater detail the environments in which humankind emerged and diversiﬁed, and the new Pleistocene lands they were able to colonize from their African heartland. Geologists in CHES and our African ﬁeld projects are using state-of-the-art technology to decipher evidence that is adding major chapters to the geological record of the world’s recent history. This epochal-scale view of environmental history will prove crucial to the ways we understand our origins. It will guide steps we may want to take to mitigate with sensitivity and wisdom our impact on the planet’s climates and landscapes.
Rutgers faculty members direct ﬁeld studies in Africa at the world’s two most prominent sites for the investigation of early human origins.
- Olduvai Gorge
- While expanding upon the discoveries of the legendary Louis and Mary Leakey, who found the ﬁrst major hominid (human ancestor) fossil at Olduvai Gorge in 1959, CHES research is also contributing a body of uniquely diverse information for use by Tanzania’s conservation and wildlife management authorities.
- Koobi Fora
- Rutgers assumed codirectorship of this prestigious ﬁeld school with the National Museums of Kenya in 1997. The ﬁeld school offers undergraduate and graduate students opportunity to receive training in prehistoric archaeology, vertebrate and hominid paleontology, geology, and wildlife ecology at one of the world’s most famous fossil hominid localities.
- Melanie Crisfield
- Jonathan Davis
- John Fedors
- Carolyn Hartwick
- Adam Heinrich
- Christopher Lepre
- Jack McCoy
- Stephen Merritt
- Emmanuel Ndiema
- Michael Pante
- Kari Prassack
- Jay Reti
- Jane Steele