Unstable environments favored flexibility
Environmental instability coincided with innovations in early Homo sapiens
Fossil, archeological, and genomic data indicate that modern humans evolved in Africa between 500,000-300,000 years ago, coinciding with changes in hominin adaptation and technology. Researchers now show that these changes occurred as the environment became increasingly unstable.
A drill core from Olorgesailie in southern Kenya comprises sediments deposited over the past 1 million years, and allows scientists to gather data about how the environment of the region changed over this period. Repeated disruptions in available water and vegetation occurred as specialist grazing mammals became extinct and behaviors typical of early Homo sapiens emerged. Those behaviors include new technologies and intergroup trade that allowed hunter-gatherers to adapt to an unpredictable environment.
Published in the journal Science Advances October 21, 2020, by Potts and colleagues.