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The origins of the Acheulean in East Africa


The disappearance of the earliest human culture, the Oldowan, and its substitution by a new technology 1.6 million years ago, the Acheulean, is one of the main topics in modern Paleoanthropology. However, little is known about the biological and cultural evolutionary mechanisms underlying this process. Traditionally, it has been assumed that this major cultural change was ignited by the emergence of a new human species, Homo ergaster/ erectus, and that there was a steady technological evolution during the Oldowan that eventually led to the emergence of the Acheulean handaxes. However, these assumptions are not grounded in the current available evidence, but rooted in paradigms that should now be superseded.
Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania) is the site where the earliest Acheulean was first discovered, and where the traditional view of the Oldowan-Acheulean transition was established. Despite the pivotal role of Olduvai as a sequence of reference for East Africa and elsewhere, the original datasets are now outdated and are unsuitable for current discussions. This proposal aims to solve this problem by conducting a comprehensive research program at Olduvai, based on the retrieval of fresh data derived from new laboratory and fieldwork research. The multidisciplinary character of this study will provide an integrative perspective to the analysis of the paleoecology, archaeology, geology and geochronology of the early Acheulean at Olduvai. Using an innovative theoretical perspective that combines interests in cultural change, ecological adaptations, and biological evolution, and state-of-the-art methods in archaeology, geology, and taphonomy, this project aims to make Olduvai the world’s best reference for understanding of the evolutionary processes that led to the emergence of the Acheulean, the longest lasting culture in the history of humankind.

Call for proposal

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Host institution

EU contribution
€ 1 457 126,00

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Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Administrative Contact
Giles Machell (Mr.)
Principal investigator
Ignacio De La Torre Sainz (Dr.)
Total cost
No data

Beneficiaries (2)