AHT 202 – Early African Archaeology Notes

History and Archaeology University Notes


CENOZOIC PERIOD (60 million years to the present)

During this era man and his ancestors evolved. It is divided into two other epochs.
– Tertiary
– Quaternary

The late tertiary comprises the Miocene and the Pliocene periods. The Quaternary
comprised of the Pleistocene and the Holocene (present)

The quaternary epoch consists of the total lifespan of human periods.

It is a period that witnessed extensive and recurrent glaciations and plurials. This period
also witnessed worldwide earth movement accompanied by volcanic eruptions leading to
the formation of the Rift Valley and high mountians found in the world. The process
(geotectonic) became very useful in the preservation of fossils which have made it
possible to characterize human cultures and evolution. Sites and materials found in
them were preserved.

The palaeoenvironments of this period was characterized by drastic changes of climates
in the world and their effect can be seen in sedimentary layers which indicate that
hominid bearing fossils sites experienced considerate modifications on several occasions
in the past. As a result some regions expanded while others contracted in response to
fluctuations in rainfall, humidity, temperature, wind velocity and direction. Africa which
was connected to Asia was cut off.

As a result of the these changes there were readjustments in the population community.
It has been shown that the climate of Miocene which lasted from 15 million years ago to
14 million years ago was generally uniform thatn that of Pliocene. The Pliocene was hot
and dry and little activity took place during this period. After dry Pliocene came the
Pleitocene period characterized by more humid conditions which were favourable for
survival of both plant and animal life. This condition permitted the spread of extensive
forests that favoured primate evolution and other semi-arboreal apes.

Palaeoenvironmental Reconstruction

Palaeoethnobotanical evidence

Plant remains are of value in reconstruction of past environments but thus must be made
with reference to their present day habitat preferences and geographical ranges. In
reconstruction one must be alive to the way in which the structure and composition of
living population become distorted at death by various depositional and destructional

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