Herbivore enamel carbon isotopic composition and the environmental context of ardipithecus at Gona, Ethiopia

Naomi E. Levin, Scott W. Simpson, Jay Quade, Thure E. Cerling, Stephen R. Frost

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


Ardipithecus fossils found in late Miocene and early Pliocene deposits in the Afar region of Ethiopia, along with Sahelanthropus tchadensis from Chad and Orrorin tugenensis from Kenya, are among the earliest known human ancestors and are considered to be the predecessors to the subsequent australopithecines (Australopithecus anamensis and Australopithecus afarensis). Current paleoenvironmental reconstructions suggest a wooded habitat for both Ardipithecus kadabba and Ardipithecus ramidus but more open and varied environments for other hominids living in Africa during the late Miocene and early Pliocene. To further evaluate the environmental context of Ardipithecus, we present stable carbon isotope data of 182 fossil herbivore teeth from Ardipithecus-bearing fossil deposits in the Gona Paleoanthropological Research Project area, in the Afar region of Ethiopia. The sampled teeth include representatives of all major fossil herbivore taxa and the majority of the mammalian biomass that lived in the same time and place as the hominids. When compared to extant herbivores from East Africa, the spectra of isotopic results from herbivores found in late Miocene Ar. kadabba and early Pliocene Ar. ramidus sites at Gona are most similar to isotopic values from extant herbivores living in bushland and grassland regions and dissimilar to those from herbivores living in closed-canopy forests, montane forests, and high-elevation grasslands. The tooth enamel isotopic data from fossil herbivores make it clear that Ardipithecus at Gona lived among a guild of animals whose diet was dominated by C4 grass, and where there is no record of closed-canopy vegetation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)215-235
Number of pages21
JournalSpecial Paper of the Geological Society of America
StatePublished - 2008


  • Ardipithecus
  • Carbon isotopes
  • Ethiopia
  • Gona
  • Tooth enamel

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology


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