February 12, 2021
Current evidence suggests that all of the major events in early human evolution occurred in East Africa. Research over the last two decades has shown that the landscape of East Africa has altered dramatically over the last 10 million years. Formation of the East African Rift has changed the region from a relatively flat, homogenous landscape covered with mixed tropical forest, to a varied and heterogeneous environment, with mountains over 4 km high and vegetation ranging from desert to cloud forest. This tectonic rifting also generated numerous lake basins, which are highly sensitive to changes in the local precipitation-evaporation regime. Orbital forcing or celestial mechanics, particularly through precession has a strong influence on the East African rain systems and can be linked to the filling up and drying out of the deep-freshwater lakes. The appearance and disappearance of these lakes can be linked to hominin speciation, extinction, encephalization (brain expansion) and dispersals out of Africa. It seems that small wobbles in the Earth’s orbit, which are usually associated with the waxing and waning of the great ice ages, also caused early human evolution, the emergence of modern humans and their migrations out of Africa.
Mark Maslin FRGS, FRSA is a Professor of Earth System Science at UCL. Maslin is a leading scientist with particular interest in understanding the climate change and the major challenges facing humanity in the 21st century. He has published over 170 papers in journals such as Science, Nature, and The Lancet, with a current citation count according to Google Scholar over 18,500 (H=65 and i10 index=164) with 40 papers that have been cited over 100 times. He has supported his cutting-edge research with funding of over £70m from government, charities and the private sector. He has written 10 books and over 60 popular articles (e.g., for New Scientist, Independent, Guardian, Telegraph, New York Times and The Conversation – currently over 2.8 million reads). He appears regularly on radio and television, including BBC One David Attenborough’s ‘Climate Change: the fact’. His books include the high successful ‘Climate Change: A Very Short Introduction’ (OUP, 2014 and 21), The Cradle of Humanity (OUP, 2017 and 19) and The Human Planet: How we created the Anthropocene co-authored with Simon Lewis (Penguin, 2018). His next book “How to save our planet: the facts’ will be published by Penguin in early 2021. He also co-founded Rezatec Ltd which is now one of the world’s leading geospatial analytics company providing AI “big data” solutions to environmental issues for companies, NGOs, and local and national Governments and is currently valued at £30-50m. He was included in Who’s Who for the first time in 2009, made a Royal Society industrial fellow in 2012 and was granted a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Scholarship in 2011 for his work on early human evolution.