Sediment samples collected from Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania will be analyzed for fossil pollen. The sediment samples were collected from deposits recognized as lake or wetland environments from two well-defined strata, Bed I and Lowermost Bed II, from the gorge. These deposits, which date to 2.03-1.78 million years ago (m.y.a.) and 1.75-1.70 m.y.a respectively, are an important area of research for archaeologists investigating early hominids, i.e. Homo habilis. Recent archaeological and geological investigations at the gorge have focused upon reconstructing the landscape and paleoecology of the region in order to better understand the environment within which these hominids subsisted. The palynological work consists of several parts. At first the PI will need to familiarize herself with African pollen taxa and with preparation methodologies for early Pleistocene material. Second, samples from a variety of fossil wetland environments identified from Lowermost Bed II will be analyzed for their fossil pollen content. Third, a calibration data set combining the modern pollen spectra and water quality data from varied wetland environments at nearby sites thought to be comparable analogues for Oldowan wetland environments will be developed and then applied to the data collected from Lowermost Bed II. It is hypothesized that the pollen spectra from different wetland habitats will serve as a proxy for determining paleo-wetland environments and water quality conditions. Finally, samples of laminated lake sediments from Bed I will be analyzed for fossil pollen and the regional paleoecology determined. The paleoecological and inferred water quality information will provide key insights into early Pleistocene environments and landscape at Olduvai, at a key time in Hominid history. This information will be of critical importance to the landscape models archaeologists and geologists are constructing for this period and region. Not only does this POWRE proposal provide a unique opportunity for the PI to work with scientists from other disciplines in order to develop a more complete picture of early hominid land use, it comes at a critical time in the PI's career after taking time off from active research to raise a family.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Earth Sciences (EAR)
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Michael A. Mayhew
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Rutgers University
New Brunswick
United States
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