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The expansion of the Acheulian to the Southeastern Ethiopian Highlands: Insights from the new early Pleistocene site-complex of Melka Wakena

Hovers, Erella and Gossa, Tegenu and Asrat, Asfawossen and Niespolo, Elizabeth M. and Resom, Angesom and Renne, Paul R. and Ekshtain, Ravid and Herzlinger, Gadi and Ketema, Natnael and Martínez-Navarro, Bienvenido (2021) The expansion of the Acheulian to the Southeastern Ethiopian Highlands: Insights from the new early Pleistocene site-complex of Melka Wakena. Quaternary Science Reviews, 253 . Art. No. 106763. ISSN 0277-3791.

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Current models of early hominin biological and cultural evolution are shaped almost entirely by the data accumulated from the East African Rift System (EARS) over the last decades. In contrast, little is known about the archaeological record from the high-elevation regions on either side of the Rift. Melka Wakena is a newly discovered site-complex on the Southeastern Ethiopian Highlands (SEH) (>2300 m above mean sea level) just east of the central sector of the Main Ethiopian Rift (MER), where eight archaeological and two paleontological localities were discovered to date. Nine archaeological horizons from three localities were tested so far, all dated to the second half of the early Pleistocene (∼1.6 to >0.7 Ma). All the lithic assemblages belong to the Acheulian technocomplex. Here we report on geochronological, stratigraphic, paleontological and lithic technological aspects of the tested localities and contextualize them in the broader framework of hominin cultural evolution in eastern Africa. Findings from Melka Wakena, assessed against the backdrop of the few other highland sites (Melka Kunture and Gadeb), support a scenario of expansion rather than dispersal from the Rift to the highlands. When considered in the context of the Rift-highlands interface, results of the first-phase research at Melka Wakena help to parse existing general models into archaeologically testable hypotheses and demonstrate the site’s potential to contribute to research of early prehistory and to understanding the dynamics of early Pleistocene hominin populations in eastern Africa.

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Hovers, Erella0000-0002-7855-6573
Niespolo, Elizabeth M.0000-0002-9537-3031
Herzlinger, Gadi0000-0002-6437-607X
Additional Information:© 2020 Elsevier Ltd. Received 22 August 2020, Revised 8 December 2020, Accepted 11 December 2020, Available online 29 December 2020. We thank the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage (ARCCH) of Ethiopia for its encouragement and help during the field and post-excavation phases of the study. We are grateful to the people of Aluba village for their hospitality and help in the field and beyond. Work at Melka Wakena was supported by grants from the Palaeontological Scientific Trust (PAST), National Geographic Society (Grant #9801-15), Gerda Henkel Foundation, and the Ruth Amiran Fund for Archaeological Research at the Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. TG’s doctoral studies were supported by a Wadsworth Fellowship from the Wenner-Gren Foundation and a Baldwin Fellowship from the Leakey Foundation. The field geological and stratigraphic work was supported by the School of Earth Sciences, Addis Ababa University as part of AR’s Masters studies under the supervision of AA. EMN was supported by a U.C. Berkeley Fellowship. The geochronology work was supported by the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation and by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. BMN thanks the Spanish Ministry of Science (grant CGL-2016-80975-P), Generalitat de Catalunya (grant GENCAT 2017SGR 859) and Palarq Foundation. Photographs of the fauna were prepared by Sergio Ros-Montoya. This paper was written when EH was a visiting researcher at the Dept. of Anthropology, NYU, in the academic year 2019/2020. Author statement: Hovers and Gossa co-directed the project, raised the funding and organized all aspects of the work. All the authors but Niepsolo and Renne participated in fieldwork and all the authors contributed to the post-excavation analyses and to the preparation of the manuscript. EH conceived the framework of the paper, synthesized the input from authors and wrote the introduction, discussion and conclusions sections. TG provided data and text on the lithic assemblages. Asrat and Resom conducted the geological fieldwork and provided text related to stratigraphy and sedimentology. Niespolo and Renne conducted the dating analyses and provided the text related to it. MBN excavated, studied and described the faunal material. RE and GH conducted the surveying and measuring part of all excavations, organized the spatial data, and worked with TG to digitize and prepare graphics. NK acted as field surpervisor and provided important insights. All authors participated actively in the editing of the paper, commented on several drafts and approved the one submitted. All authors declare no conflict of interests.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Palaeontological Scientific TrustUNSPECIFIED
National Geographic Society9801-15
Gerda Henkel FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Hebrew University of JerusalemUNSPECIFIED
Wenner-Gren FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Leakey FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Addis Ababa UniversityUNSPECIFIED
University of California, BerkeleyUNSPECIFIED
Ann and Gordon Getty FoundationUNSPECIFIED
John Templeton FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación (MCINN)CGL-2016-80975-P
Generalitat de CatalunyaGENCAT 2017SGR 859
Palarq FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:Early stone age; Eastern africa; Acheulian; Melka wakena site-complex; Geographic expansion; Highlands occupation; Dino formation; Lithic technology; Site formation processes; early Pleistocene
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20210318-111405815
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Official Citation:Erella Hovers, Tegenu Gossa, Asfawossen Asrat, Elizabeth M. Niespolo, Angesom Resom, Paul R. Renne, Ravid Ekshtain, Gadi Herzlinger, Natnael Ketema, Bienvenido Martínez-Navarro, The expansion of the Acheulian to the Southeastern Ethiopian Highlands: Insights from the new early Pleistocene site-complex of Melka Wakena, Quaternary Science Reviews, Volume 253, 2021, 106763, ISSN 0277-3791, (
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:108482
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:19 Mar 2021 00:16
Last Modified:19 Mar 2021 00:16

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