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Nature ; 565(7738): 226-229, 2019 01.
Artigo em Inglês | MEDLINE | ID: mdl-30464348


The Cradle of Humankind (Cradle) in South Africa preserves a rich collection of fossil hominins representing Australopithecus, Paranthropus and Homo1. The ages of these fossils are contentious2-4 and have compromised the degree to which the South African hominin record can be used to test hypotheses of human evolution. However, uranium-lead (U-Pb) analyses of horizontally bedded layers of calcium carbonate (flowstone) provide a potential opportunity to obtain a robust chronology5. Flowstones are ubiquitous cave features and provide a palaeoclimatic context, because they grow only during phases of increased effective precipitation6,7, ideally in closed caves. Here we show that flowstones from eight Cradle caves date to six narrow time intervals between 3.2 and 1.3 million years ago. We use a kernel density estimate to combine 29 U-Pb ages into a single record of flowstone growth intervals. We interpret these as major wet phases, when an increased water supply, more extensive vegetation cover and at least partially closed caves allowed for undisturbed, semi-continuous growth of the flowstones. The intervening times represent substantially drier phases, during which fossils of hominins and other fossils accumulated in open caves. Fossil preservation, restricted to drier intervals, thus biases the view of hominin evolutionary history and behaviour, and places the hominins in a community of comparatively dry-adapted fauna. Although the periods of cave closure leave temporal gaps in the South African fossil record, the flowstones themselves provide valuable insights into both local and pan-African climate variability.

Carbonato de Cálcio/química , Clima , Fósseis , Hominidae , Chumbo/análise , Datação Radiométrica , Urânio/análise , África Oriental , Animais , Cavernas , Chuva , África do Sul
J Hum Evol ; 56(5): 497-513, 2009 May.
Artigo em Inglês | MEDLINE | ID: mdl-19443017


Australopithecus robustus is one of the best represented hominin taxa in Africa, with hundreds of specimens recovered from six fossil localities in the Bloubank Valley area of Gauteng Province, South Africa. However, precise geochronological ages are presently lacking for these fossil cave infills. In this paper, we provide a detailed geological background to a series of hominin fossils retrieved from the newly investigated deposit of Cooper's D (located partway between Sterkfontein and Kromdraai in the Bloubank Valley), including uranium-lead (U-Pb) ages for speleothem material associated with A. robustus. U-Pb dating of a basal speleothem underlying the entire deposit results in a maximum age of 1.526 (+/-0.088) Ma for Cooper's D. A second U-Pb date of ca. 1.4 Ma is produced from a flowstone layer above this basal speleothem; since this upper flowstone is not a capping flowstone, and fossiliferous sediments are preserved above this layer, some of the hominins might be slightly younger than the calculated age. As a result, we can broadly constrain the age of the hominins from Cooper's D to between 1.5 and approximately 1.4 Ma. Extinct fauna recorded in this comparatively young deposit raise the possibility that the Bloubank Valley region of South Africa represented a more stable environmental refugium for taxa relative to tectonically more active East Africa. The sediments of the deposit likely infilled rapidly during periods when arid conditions prevailed in the paleoenvironment, although it is unclear whether sediment deposition and bone deposition were necessarily contemporaneous occurrences. We reconstruct the paleoenvironment of Cooper's D as predominantly grassland, with nearby woodlands and a permanent water source. The hominin teeth recovered from Cooper's D are all from juveniles and can be confidently assigned to A. robustus. In addition, two juvenile mandibular fragments and an adult thoracic vertebra are tentatively attributed to A. robustus.

Fósseis , Hominidae/genética , Datação Radiométrica , Animais , Geologia , África do Sul
J Hum Evol ; 53(5): 602-19, 2007 Nov.
Artigo em Inglês | MEDLINE | ID: mdl-17920104


Gladysvale Cave is one of the few Plio-Pleistocene hominin-bearing cave sites in South Africa that contains a well-stratified cave fill with clastic sediments interspersed with flowstones. The clastic sediments can be divided into units based on the presence of intercalated flowstones, forming flowstone bounded units (FBU). Ten MC-ICP-MS uranium-series dates on several flowstone horizons in the Gladysvale Internal Deposit fan indicate deposition from the late mid-Pleistocene ( approximately 570 ka) to Holocene ( approximately 7 ka) during limited periods of higher effective moisture. Clastic sedimentation occurred during the interceding, presumably more arid, periods. This sequence is not consistent with earlier models for South African caves that simply assumed interglacial sedimentation and glacial erosion. (13)C/(12)C data suggest that flowstone tended to form during periods with higher proportions of C(3) plants in the local vegetation, while clastic sediments reflect higher proportions of C(4) grasses, although this is not always the case. We argue that flowstones are precipitated during periods of higher effective precipitation and restricted cave entrances, while clastic sediments accumulated during periods with more open vegetation. The sedimentary fill of the fossiliferous deposits are, therefore, highly episodic in nature, with large periods of time unlikely to be represented. This has serious implications for the other hominin-bearing caves close by, as these deposits are likely to be similarly episodic. This is especially pertinent when addressing extinction events and reconstructions of paleoenvironments, as large periods of time may be unrecorded. The Gladysvale Cave fill sediments may serve as a climatically forced chronostratigraphic model for these less well-stratified and well-dated Plio-Pleistocene sites.

Clima , Sedimentos Geológicos/química , Hominidae/genética , Paleontologia , Tório/análise , Urânio/análise , Animais , Isótopos de Carbono/análise , Fósseis , Sistemas de Informação Geográfica , Isótopos de Oxigênio/análise , Caramujos/química , África do Sul