Towards Homo sapiens: continuity and biological and cultural transitions in Danakil Eritrea over the last million years
The Buia sedimentary basin, in the Eritrean Danakil Depression, yielded over the past years a number of rich fossil outcrops dated to the final phases of the Early Pleistocene. The excavation campaigns carried out in this geo-chronologically extraordinary context gave us the opportunity to explore one of the most controversial issues in paleoanthropology, that is the transition from the first archaic forms of Homo to those from which anatomically modern Homo descends directly.
The project started in 1995 and it has been coordinated since 2010 by Sapienza University. The strength of the project is the interdisciplinary approach that involves researchers from several Italian, Eritrean and international institutions. The past campaigns brought to the discovery of many human fossil remains dated to ca. 1 Ma from the sites of Uadi Aalad and Mulhuli Amo. In Mulhuli Amo the remains attributable to at least five individuals have been found over the past years. Moreover, in November 2015 at Aalad-Amo have been discovered what appears to be the earliest H. erectus/ergaster footprints. These findings open new frontiers to the already vibrant context of the evolutionary trends in H. erectus/ergaster, and demonstrate the usefulness of similar multidisciplinary investigations in this specific portion of the African Rift.
Surveys of the palaeo-landscape, conducted over the past years brought to the identification of over 200 sites rich in both fossils and material culture, attesting the high-potential of new investigations in the area. Therefore, the constant discoveries and even the unexpected findings - like the footprints - highlight the necessity to further investigate this extraordinary portion of the Danakil depression, and to extend our knowledge on this still poorly understood phase of human evolution.