Using soils of the past to reconstruct the landscapes of human evolution



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Soils are an integral part of our modern lives – supplying our food and controlling many global biogeochemical cycles. In my research, I study the chemistries of modern soils to better understand the biogeochemical cycles affecting modern humans, but also to understand the evolution of our species, Homo sapiens, and the evolution and extinction of our close relatives known as hominins. My research focuses on soils that are hundreds of thousands to millions of years old and have since been buried beneath the earth’s surface. These buried soils of the past – called paleosols – are where we find many hominin fossils and stone tools. We can apply what we know about modern soils to these paleosols to provide snapshots of past landscapes used by our ancestors. The geochemical data from these paleosols provide us information about past climates and environments, such as temperature, precipitation, and vegetation that we can use to reconstruct these snapshots. We know that climate changes have likely driven hominin adaptations and extinctions, but over such long time scales there is much debate over the timing and importance of events. With these soils of the past, I seek to illuminate the role of climate history in the evolution of our own species.



Modern soil chemistry, Human evolution, paleosols, biogeochemical cycles, climate history