TUKUL 1: African Prehistory

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The site

Hadar is situated in the West Central Afar Sedimentary Basin of Ethiopia and was first recognized as an important Pliocene vertebrate locality by Maurice Taieb in 1968. 

The Hadar Formation

The Hadar Formation, extending over roughly 100 km², is subdivided into four members by volcanic ashes. The formation consists of 180-300 m of fluvial and lacustrine deposits that range from 3.4 to 2.3 Myr in age.

The International Afar Research Expedition collected more than 6,000 vertebrate specimens during a series of expeditions between 1973 and 1976. Paleontological and geological evidence suggests that from 3.4 to 3.18 Myr the paleoenvironment was much more heavily vegetated than today with significantly higher mean annual rainfall.

In the upper reaches of the Hadar Formation there was a trend towards a drier climate and above a major geological disconformity (less than 3.0 Myr), the landscape became increasingly dominated by grasslands.


Fieldwork at Hadar in the 1970s resulted in the recovery of nearly 250 hominid. Most well known is the 1974 discovery of a 3.18 Myr, partial female skeleton from Afar Locality (A.L.288), popularly referred to as "Lucy". A unique discovery was made in 1975 when more than 200 hominid specimens were recovered from a single locality (A.L.333). These specimens represent a minimum of 13 male and female, adult and sub-adult individuals. Dubbed the "First Family" this remarkable collection represents a catastrophic event (perhaps a flash flood) of some sort which killed and interred the bones from a troop or band of early hominids who were living together some 3.2 Myr. Following a thorough study of the 1973-76 Hadar hominid collection, it was concluded that these creatures represented a new species which was called Australopithecus afarensis. This taxon differs from other Australopithecus species in possessing a series of primitive features in the skull, teeth and mandibles.
While some ape-like features such as robust upper limbs and long forearms as well as curved hand and foot bones, are seen in the post cranial skeleton, the biomechanics of the hip, knee and ankle suggest an upright, bipedal mode of locomotion. Some investigators have interpreted the large variation in body size as representing more than one taxon. However, it is more likely that this size variation reflects sexual dimorphism with males being much larger than females. Under the auspices of the Institute of Human Origins, fieldwork was renewed at Hadar in the 1990s by the Hadar Research Project. The recovery of 97 additional fossil hominids brings the total of Hadar hominids to 345. Furthermore, the temporal span of A. afarensis within the Hadar Formation now extends to 3.0 Myr. A male, A. afarensis skull (A.L. 444-2) from 3.0 Myr deposits represents one of the most important discoveries made at Hadar in the 1990s. For the first time, the distinctive primitive skull and dental anatomy of A. afarensis can be seen in a single specimen. Finally, recovery in 1994 of a maxilla (A.L. 666-1) in 2.33 Myr sediments announces the presence of Homo at Hadar. Details of the cheek tooth morphology suggest close affinities with Homo habilis.

Lucy site

Lithic industry

Oldowan stone artifacts were found in association with the A.L. 666 specimen, and have also been excavated from an in situ horizon, making this the oldest co-occurrence of Hominds and stone tools.

Chopper-core from Kada Gona



D. C. Johanson, T. D. White, Y. Coppens 1978, A new species of the genus Australopithecus (Primates: Hominidae) from the Pliocene of eastern Africa, Kirtlandia, 28, pp. 1-14.

W. H. Kimbel,  R.C. Walter, D. C. Johanson, K.E. Reed, J. L. Aronson, Z. Assefa, C.W. Maren, G.G. Eck, R. Bobe-Quinteros, E. Hovers, Y. Rak, C. Vondra, T. Yemane, D. York, Y. Chen, N. M. Evenson, P. E. Smith 1996, Late Pliocene Homo and Oldowan tools from the Hadar Formation (Kada Hadar member, Ethiopia), Journal of Human Evolution, 31, pp. 549-561.

E. Hovers 2003, Treading Carefully: Site Formation Processes and Pliocene Lithic Technology, in J. M. Moreno, R. M. Torcal, I. de la Torre Sainz (eds), Oldowan: Rather more than smashing tools,  First Hominid Technology Workshop, Treballs de Arqueologia, 9, Bellaterra, pp. 145-164. 


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