PAGES project: Pleistocene Archaeology, Geochronology and Environment of the Southern Caucasus

Leverhulme fund 3 year project that links traditional archaeological approaches to understanding evolution with high-precision 40Ar/39Ar geochronology: PAGES (Pleistocene Archaeology, Geochronology and Environment of the Southern Caucasus)

The Leverhulme-funded project is a collaboration between SUERC, Winchester and Royal Holloway aimed at understanding the nature and timing of the dispersal of Homo across the Old World and is fundamental in comprehending human evolution during the Pleistocene.

However, evidence is patchy for both the pathways and timing of hominin dispersal from Africa into, and then within, the rest of the Old World. As a result, key aspects of the narrative of human evolution, ecological adaptation and technological innovation, are presently obscured. Indeed the evolutionary paradigm for the Lower and Middle Pleistocene, at least, remains largely based on the Palaeolithic record of the East African Rift Valley (EARV).

Since the first discovery of fossil hominins in Olduvai, the EARV is where palaeoanthropologists have often chosen to work, largely driven by the high quality of the EARV's archaeological, palaeoclimate and palaeoenvironmental record. Stratigraphic sequences in the EARV are also often continuous, while there is reliable chronometric and tephronochrological age control from interbedded volcanic strata. Therefore evidence from the EARV has been interpreted by researchers such Maslin et al and deMenocal as suggesting that Homo expansion into Eurasia was sporadic and linked to environmental forcing.

However, robust testing of the ideas that underpin such dispersal hypotheses is presently constrained because available Eurasian data lack the necessary temporal resolution to provide a comparison with the EARV record. Thus key questions remain unanswered, such as whether the environmental stress that forced migration was confined to Africa, and if indeed there were multiple episodes of stress and population movement. Comparing well-dated archaeological, palaeoclimate and palaeoenvironmental records is the only way to address these questions.

Consequently we propose to study a region that shows a high potential to meet such imperatives: the Southern Caucasus (SC). This region forms a geographic hub between the Levant (and hence Africa and Arabia), Anatolia (and to Europe beyond), Persia (and thereby to southern Asia) and the north European plains. Recent investigations of Pleistocene strata in the SC show it to be the only area of the world other than the EARV where dispersal hypotheses such as deMenocal's or Maslin’s can be tested.

For information about the project please contact Darren Mark directly (email Darren)

First published: 24 April 2016

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