Paleoenvironmental and paleoecological reconstruction of a freshwater oasis in savannah grassland at FLK North, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania

Gail M. Ashley, Doris Barboni, Manuel Dominguez-Rodrigo, Henry T. Bunn, Audax Z.P. Mabulla, Fernando Diez-Martin, Rebeca Barba, Enrique Baquedano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


The records of early hominins are commonly localized both temporally and spatially even in archaeologically rich basins like Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. The FLK North site was discovered in 1960, but the reason for the exact location of this dense concentration of fossils and stone tools on a lake-margin flat has not been explained. We present new geological and geochemical information from six excavations in upper Bed I, which revealed up to 1.4-m-thick carbonate deposits, attesting to the presence of freshwater springs in the area surrounding FLK North. The δ18O signatures of the tufa are typical for meteoric water that has evolved during evaporation. Tuff IF that caps the sequence was deposited on uneven topography with the highest area a low-relief ridge between two faults at the archaeological site and lowest areas being sites of groundwater discharge. The model proposed here is that rainfall on adjacent highlands was transported to the basin where faults acted as conduits for water. Similar hydrogeological settings at modern lakes Manyara and Eyasi, currently support lush groundwater forest and woodland despite arid climate. FLK North may have been an "oasis" offering freshwater and shelter for consuming meat by both carnivores and hominins.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)333-343
Number of pages11
JournalQuaternary Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


  • East Africa
  • Groundwater forest
  • Hominins
  • Paleoenvironment
  • Phytoliths
  • Springs
  • Stable isotopes


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