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African Biogeography, Climate Change, and Early Hominid Evolution

WGF Symposium #119 Group Photo

October 25 - November 2, 1995
The Livingstonia Beach Hotel, Salima, Malawi


PUBLICATION:    African Biogeography, Climate Change, & Human Evolution (Timothy G. Bromage and Friedemann Schrenk, Eds.), Oxford University Press, 1999.


bookcoverPeter Andrews (Natural History Museum, UK)
Brenda R. Benefit (Southern Illinois University, USA)
Ray Bernor (Howard University, USA)
Laura Bishop (University of Liverpool, UK)
Timothy G. Bromage (City University of New York, Hunter College, USA)
George H. Denton (University of Maine, USA)
Christiane Denys (Natural History Museum, France)
Craig Feibel (Rutgers University, USA)
Robert A. Foley (University of Cambridge, UK)
Peter Grubb (National History Museum, UK)
Yusuf M. Juwayeyi (Department of Antiquities, Malawi)
Thomas Kaiser (City University of New York, Hunter College, USA)
Jeffrey McKee (University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa)
Eileen M. O’Brien (Institute of Ecology, USA)
R. Norman Owen-Smith (University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa)
Fernando Ramirez-Rozzi (Musée de l’Homme, France)
Michael L. Rosenzweig (University of Arizona, USA)
Friedemann Schrenk (Hessian State Museum, Germany)
Nancy Sikes (Smithsonian Institution, USA)
Sydel Silverman (Wenner-Gren Foundation, USA)
Frederick S. Szalay (City University of New York, Hunter College, USA)
Alan Turner (University of Liverpool, UK)
Elisabeth S. Vrba (Yale University, USA)
Bernard Wood (University of Liverpool, UK)


Twenty-three scholars from Africa, Europe, and the United States assembled in Salima, Malawi, with two goals: I) to consider the potential for a paradigm shift in palaeoanthropology away from taxonomic analyses limited to character similarities and differences, toward a paradigm that interprets characters ecologically and adaptively in the larger context of their habitat specificities; and, 2) to explore the means by which such a paradigm might help us to better chronicle human biological and cultural evolution. This perspective implies a certain "ecocentric" view as to the nature of hominid lineages and the way we define their taxonomic segments. Such a perspective is needed at this time to account for the relationship between eastern and southern Africa in hominid evolution, as the more traditional morphological taxonomic approaches have neglected to account for the fact that these areas belong to two seemingly different ecological domains: tropical and temperate zones, respectively.

Among the important questions addressed by the conference were: How can shifts in evolutionary theory influence the practice of taxonomy? What constitutes climate change, and how can the "turnover pulse" of extinctions and speciations resulting from this change be defined? What techniques can be applied to indicate the degreee to which early hominids were ecosensitive, and was this sensitivity affected by a material culture? In what way, ifany, might climate change have precipitated the origins of Hominidae and Australopithecus, megodontia in Paranthropus, and encephalization and tool making in earliest Homo? Can the differences between eastern and southern African hominids be attributed either to geographic variations or to true species differences?

The organizers are currently editing a volume of the conference papers for publication by Oxford University Press.