Paleoclimatic and paleoenvironmental framework of FLK North archaeological site, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania

Gail M. Ashley, Henry T. Bunn, Jeremy S. Delaney, Doris Barboni, Manuel Domínguez-Rodrigo, Audax Z.P. Mabulla, Alia N. Gurtov, Roni Dell Baluyot, Emily J. Beverly, Enrique Baquedano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


The multi component FLK North archaeological site was discovered over 50 years ago, and its interpretation has been highly controversial since. Explanations of the dense bone and stone tool accumulation range from a site on a featureless lake margin that is dominantly anthropogenic in origin to a site near a freshwater wetland that is dominated by carnivore activity (e.g. felids and hyenas). FLK North occurs stratigraphically between the Ng'eju Tuff (1.818 ± 0.006 Ma) and Tuff IF (1.803 ± 0.002 Ma), and is composed of 9 distinct levels. Analysis of newly recovered fossil bones and artifacts has shown that the bones of large animals are largely the product of felid hunting and feeding behavior, followed by hyena gnawing and breakage of some bones. The expanded sample of felid prey remains is significant for understanding the contrasts between the mortality profiles of fossil assemblages produced by carnivores and those produced by hominins. Geologic mapping in the environs of the site has revealed rich sedimentological and paleoecological records and a thin, but persistent tuff (here named Kidogo Tuff) that is ~1.5 m below Tuff IF. Electron microprobe analyses of the tuff mineralogy revealed a unique geochemical fingerprint that permits its use for correlation of widely separated outcrops and facilitates the high resolution reconstruction of the landscape at the time of site formation. The 9 archaeological levels comprise a relatively continuous record through a Milankovitch precession cycle (dry-wet-dry). As the lake receded into the central basin during the dry part of the cycle, surface water supplies dwindled and groundwater-fed springs and wetlands became the dominant freshwater supply. The FLK North archaeological record essentially ended when level 1 was covered with 0.4 m of Tuff IF in a violent volcanic eruption of nearby Mt. Olmoti. However, the overlying Bed II sediments contain scattered archaeological material and a freshwater carbonate deposit that is similar to those found associated with other Bed II archaeological sites, e.g. VEK, HWK and HWKE. The recognition of the ecological association of springs, wetlands and archaeological remains is a powerful predictive tool for locating new archaeological sites in this region that is known for hominin remains.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)54-65
Number of pages12
JournalQuaternary International
StatePublished - Feb 16 2014
Externally publishedYes


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