May 21, 2022


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Ancient ostrich eggshell reveals new evidence of extreme climate change thousands of years ago

Impression: mandible of compact antelope in calcrete
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Credit score: Philip Kiberd

Evidence from an historic eggshell has disclosed vital new information and facts about the extraordinary local climate change faced by human early ancestors.

The investigation shows areas of the interior of South Africa that right now are dry and sparsely populated, ended up as soon as wetland and grassland 250,000 to 350,000 decades back, at a essential time in human evolution.

Philip Kiberd and Dr Alex Pryor, from the University of Exeter, researched isotopes and the amino acid from ostrich eggshell fragments excavated at the early center Stone Age web site of Bundu Farm, in the higher Karoo location of the Northern Cape. It is a single of quite couple of archaeological web-sites dated to 250,000 to 350,000 in southern Africa, a time period of time linked with the earliest appearance of communities with the genetic signatures of Homo sapiens.

This new study supports other evidence, from fossil animal bones, that past communities in the area lived amid grazing herds of wildebeest, zebra, little antelope, hippos, baboons and extinct species of Megalotragus priscus and Equus capensis, and hunted these together with other carnivores, hyena and lions.

Immediately after this period of equitable weather and natural environment the eggshell proof – and past finds from the web site – suggests immediately after 200,000 a long time back cooler and wetter climates gave way to increasing aridity. A method of switching wet and dry climates recognised as driving the turnover and evolution of species, like Homo sapiens.

The analyze, printed in the South African Archaeological Bulletin, demonstrates that extracting isotopic information from ostrich eggshells, which are usually uncovered on archaeological web pages in southern Africa, is a feasible selection for open-air internet sites increased than 200,000 yrs old. The system which requires grinding a little aspect of the eggshell, to a powder allows experts to analyse and date the shell, which in change presents a correct on the climate and surroundings in the past.

Making use of eggshell to examine previous climates is possible as ostriches consume the freshest leaves of shrubs and grasses obtainable in their environment, meaning eggshell composition demonstrates their diet plan. As eggs are laid in the breeding season across a small window, the details observed in ostrich eggshell offers a picture of the prevailing setting and local weather for a specific period in time.

Bundu Farm, exactly where the eggshell was recovered is a distant farm 50km from the nearest little city, sitting down in a dry semi-desert natural environment, which supports a tiny flock of sheep. The internet site was first excavated in the late 1990’s the web page with materials stored at the McGregor Museum, Kimberley (MMK). The research can help fill a gap in our expertise for this portion of South Africa and firmly puts the Bundu Farm web-site on the map.

Philip Kiberd, who led the analyze, reported: “This section of South Africa is now incredibly arid, but thousands of decades ago it would have been Eden-like landscape with lakes and rivers and considerable species of flora and fauna. Our investigation of the ostrich eggshell assists us to far better comprehend the environments in which our ancestors were evolving and supplies an important context in which to interpret the behaviours and diversifications of people today in the previous and how this ultimately led to the evolution of our species’.


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