Early human impacts and ecosystem reorganization in southern-central Africa

Jessica C. Thompson, David K. Wright, Sarah J. Ivory, Jeong Heon Choi, Sheila Nightingale, Alex Mackay, Flora Schilt, Erik Otárola-Castillo, Julio Mercader, Steven L. Forman, Timothy Pietsch, Andrew S. Cohen, J. Ramón Arrowsmith, Menno Welling, Jacob Davis, Benjamin Schiery, Potiphar Kaliba, Oris Malijani, Margaret W. Blome, Corey A. O'DriscollSusan M. Mentzer, Christopher Miller, Seoyoung Heo, Jungyu Choi, Joseph Tembo, Fredrick Mapemba, Davie Simengwa, Elizabeth Gomani-Chindebvu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Modern Homo sapiens engage in substantial ecosystem modification, but it is difficult to detect the origins or early consequences of these behaviors. Archaeological, geochronological, geomorphological, and paleoenvironmental data from northern Malawi document a changing relationship between forager presence, ecosystem organization, and alluvial fan formation in the Late Pleistocene. Dense concentrations of Middle Stone Age artifacts and alluvial fan systems formed after ca. 92 thousand years ago, within a paleoecological context with no analog in the preceding half-million-year record. Archaeological data and principal coordinates analysis indicate that early anthropogenic fire relaxed seasonal constraints on ignitions, influencing vegetation composition and erosion. This operated in tandem with climate-driven changes in precipitation to culminate in an ecological transition to an early, pre-agricultural anthropogenic landscape.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbereabf9776
JournalScience Advances
Issue number19
StatePublished - May 5 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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