Hydroclimate changes in eastern Africa over the past 200,000 years may have influenced early human dispersal

Frank Schaebitz, Asfawossen Asrat, Henry F. Lamb, Andrew S. Cohen, Verena Foerster, Walter Duesing, Stefanie Kaboth-Bahr, Stephan Opitz, Finn A. Viehberg, Ralf Vogelsang, Jonathan Dean, Melanie J. Leng, Annett Junginger, Christopher Bronk Ramsey, Melissa S. Chapot, Alan Deino, Christine S. Lane, Helen M. Roberts, Céline Vidal, Ralph TiedemannMartin H. Trauth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Reconstructions of climatic and environmental conditions can contribute to current debates about the factors that influenced early human dispersal within and beyond Africa. Here we analyse a 200,000-year multi-proxy paleoclimate record from Chew Bahir, a tectonic lake basin in the southern Ethiopian rift. Our record reveals two modes of climate change, both associated temporally and regionally with a specific type of human behavior. The first is a long-term trend towards greater aridity between 200,000 and 60,000 years ago, modulated by precession-driven wet-dry cycles. Here, more favorable wetter environmental conditions may have facilitated long-range human expansion into new territory, while less favorable dry periods may have led to spatial constriction and isolation of local human populations. The second mode of climate change observed since 60,000 years ago mimics millennial to centennial-scale Dansgaard-Oeschger cycles and Heinrich events. We hypothesize that human populations may have responded to these shorter climate fluctuations with local dispersal between montane and lowland habitats.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number123
JournalCommunications Earth and Environment
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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