Landscapes of human evolution: models and methods of tectonic geomorphology and the reconstruction of hominin landscapes

Geoffrey Bailey, Sally Reynolds, Geoffrey King

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    78 Citations (Scopus)


    This paper examines the relationship between complex and tectonically active landscapes and patterns of human evolution. We show how active tectonics can produce dynamic landscapes with geomorphological and topographic features that may be critical to long-term patterns of hominin land use, but which are not typically addressed in landscape reconstructions based on existing geological and paleoenvironmental principles. We describe methods of representing topography at a range of scales using measures of roughness based on digital elevation data, and combine the resulting maps with satellite imagery and ground observations to reconstruct features of the wider landscape as they existed at the time of hominin occupation and activity. We apply these methods to sites in South Africa, where relatively stable topography facilitates reconstruction. We demonstrate the presence of previously unrecognized tectonic effects and their implications for the interpretation of hominin habitats and land use. In parts of the East African Rift, reconstruction is more difficult because of dramatic changes since the time of hominin occupation, while fossils are often found in places where activity has now almost ceased. However, we show that original, dynamic landscape features can be assessed by analogy with parts of the Rift that are currently active and indicate how this approach can complement other sources of information to add new insights and pose new questions for future investigation of hominin land use and habitats.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)257-280
    Number of pages24
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2011


    • East African Rift
    • Roughness
    • Satellite imagery
    • South Africa
    • Topographic complexity


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