Over 25 years, knowledge of modern human origins, evolution and diversity has increased dramatically. Genetics has been a major driver, promoting the ‘out of Africa model’, but, except for ancient DNA, it only tells the story of evolutionary survivors. African human population’ distributions mean that the history reconstructed from genetic data is partial and comparatively shallow. Although patchy, archaeological research in South and North Africa reveals the complexity of early human prehistory. Homo sapiens’ fossils in Africa from 200Kyr, (earliest 'modern-looking' remains) to ~10Kyr are known from only 17 sites. This makes it difficult to address questions on the selective and demographic pressures that led to our evolution, rates of population expansion/fragmentation, the scale of differentiation and levels of diversity in Africa through time, and the reasons why an African population was so successful that it eventually dominated the world. This proposal argues that intensive research ‘in Africa’ lies at the heart of the ‘out of Africa’ paradigm, and that the discovery of new fossils and archaeological sites, especially in East Africa, the hinge of the continent, is essential. Our recent field and archival surveys in Kenya (Turkana, Nakuru) have identified extremely rich archaeological and fossiliferous deposits of apparent Upper Pleistocene-Early Holocene age. This project will carry out a major fieldwork programme in W. Turkana, and sampling and dating of sites around Gamble's Caves, Nakuru. The goals are to: 1 Increase significantly the human fossil record of Upper Pleistocene age in East Africa; 2 Record changes in human behaviour in the area leading to the dispersals across and out of Africa; 3 Map the character and timing of the Middle to Later Stone Age transition in the Central Rift Valley; 4 Integrate the prehistoric record with palaeoenvironmental data; 5 Increase public awareness in Kenya of the role of Africa in the evolution of H.sapiens.
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