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The Origins of the Acheulean in East Africa

The Olduvai Gorge in northern Tanzania

A reconsideration of the emergence of the Acheulean: biological and cultural evolutionary mechanisms

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 Palaeoanthropology. Despite the great relevance of the Oldowan-Acheulean transition, little is known about the biological and cultural evolutionary mechanisms underlying this process.

Origins of the Acheulean

Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania) is the site where the earliest Acheulean was first discovered, and where the traditional view of the Oldowan-Acheulean transition was first established.

In 2007,  Lindsay McHenry and Ignacio de la Torre designed a new research project in Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania), with the aim of investigating the end of the Oldowan and the origins of the Acheulean in Middle and Upper Bed II. This crystallized into a US National Science Foundation-funded project with Professor McHenry as principal investigator and Ignacio as co-principal investigator, which has set up the basis for a chrono-stratigraphic and archaeological reconsideration of the origins of the Acheulean in Olduvai.

Since 2008 fieldwork has been conducted annually at the Gorge, and excavations in several sites are producing highly relevant data on the demise of the Oldowan and the emergence of the Acheulean in East Africa.

In 2011-12, Ignacio de la Torre was awarded a European Research Council (ERC) Startng Grant to lead the ORACEAF project which aims to review previous paradigms on the origins of the Acheulean by developing a comprehensive research program at Olduvai, based on the retrieval of fresh data derived from new laboratory and fieldwork research.

The multidisciplinary character of the ORACEAF project is providing an integrative perspective to the analysis of the paleoecology, archaeology, geology and geochronology of the early Acheulean at Olduvai. Using theoretical perspectives that combine interests in cultural change, ecological adaptations, and biological evolution, ORACEAF aims to make Olduvai one of the world’s best references for understanding of the evolutionary processes that led to the emergence of the Acheulean, the longest lasting culture in the history of humankind.


Related outputs

  • Details of publications and other outputs will be published here in due course.
  • Outputs from the previous phases of research include:

    • Torre, I. de la (2008). La arqueología de los orígenes humanos en África. Madrid, Akal.
    • Torre, I. de la & Mora, R. (2009). Remarks on the Current Theoretical and Methodological Approaches to the Study of Early Technological Strategies in Eastern Africa. In (E. Hovers & D. R. Braun, eds.) Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Oldowan. Dordrecht, Springer, 15-24.

European Research Council (ERC) logo

Funding

  • ERC Starter Grant #283366
  • Funding received for the previous phases of research includes:

    •     US National Science Foundation
    •     The Leakey Foundation
    •     British Academy
    •     British Institute in East Africa

Project Leader:


Project Partners:

  • Lindsay McHenry (University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee)
  • Jackson Njau (Indiana University)

Keywords:


Further information:


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