Turbulent Era Sparked Leap in Human Behavior: Drill Site

Human Origins Program, Smithsonian
October 21, 2020
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Drill site at night
Human Origins Program, Smithsonian

In seeking to understand the major evolutionary transition they had uncovered at Olorgesailie in 2018, Potts and his team had been frustrated by a large 180,000-year gap in the region’s environmental record. To learn about how the region changed during that period, they had to look elsewhere. They arranged to have a Nairobi company drill in the nearby Koora basin, extracting sediment from as deep into the earth as they could. The drill site, about 15 miles from the archaeological dig sites, was a flat, grassy plain, and the team had no clear idea what was beneath its surface. With the involvement and support from the National Museums of Kenya and the local Oldonyo Nyokie community, a 139-meter core was removed from the earth. That cylinder of earth, just four centimeters in diameter, turned out to represent 1 million years of environmental history.

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