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Wits University Press

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Our Ancestors Preferred to Nestle in Tectonic Hot Spots, like the Cradle of Humankind

Caves of the Ape-menScientists from the University of Witwaterstrand as well as the University of York and the Institut de Physique du Globe Paris have found that our earliest ancestors preferred to live in areas at high risk of earthquakes, volcanoes or both.

Studying the remains of Australopithecus africanus (like the “Mrs. Ples” fossil from Sterkfontein) reveals that early hominids were adapted to living in mosaic habitats – places constituting open grassland, forest areas and wetland areas – the type of landscape created by shifts in the earth’s tectonic plates.

Although South Africa is tectonically stable, it is now agreed that there are modest areas of tectonic activity in places like East Africa, and South Africa’s Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, which provided ideal living conditions for our ancestors:

Our earliest ancestors preferred to settle in locations that have something in common with cities such as San Francisco, Naples and Istanbul — they are often on active tectonic faults in areas that have an earthquake risk or volcanoes, or both.

An international team of scientists has established a link between the shape of the landscape and the habitats preferred by our earliest ancestors. The research, by scientists at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, the University of York and the Institut de Physique du Globe Paris (IPGP), is published in the March 2011 issue of the Journal of Human Evolution.

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