The Origins of the Acheulean at Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania): A New Paleoanthropological Project in East Africa

Ignacio de la Torre, Lindsay McHenry, Jackson Njau, Michael Pante

Abstract

The disappearance of the earliest human culture, the Oldowan, and its substitution by a new technology, the Acheulean, is one of the main topics in modern Paleoanthropology. Recent research has established that the Acheulean emerged originally in East Africa around 1.7–1.6 million years ago, and from that area expanded across the rest of Africa, Europe and parts of Asia. Despite the great relevance of the Oldowan-Acheulean transition, 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are not grounded in the current available evidence, but rooted in cultural-history paradigms that should now be superseded.

Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania) is the site where the traditional view of the Oldowan-Acheulean transition was established. The aim of the recently launched Olduvai Geochronology and Archaeology Project is to tackle this question 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 ongoing study is providing an integrative perspective to the analysis of the paleoecology, archaeology, geology and geochronology of the transition to the 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 one of the world’s best references for the understanding of the evolutionary processes that led to the emergence of the Acheulean, the longest lasting culture in the history of humankind.

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How to cite: de la Torre, I, McHenry, L, Njau, J and Pante, M 2012. The Origins of the Acheulean at Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania): A New Paleoanthropological Project in East Africa. Archaeology International 15:89-98, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/ai.1505

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Published on 14 December 2012.

ISSN: 2048-4194 | Published by Ubiquity Press | Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.