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Scientists find fossil proof of Egypt's ancient climate

Earth and planetary scientists at Washington University in St. Louis are studying snail fossils to understand the climate of northern Africa 130,000 years ago.

While that might sound a bit like relying on wooly bear caterpillars to predict the severity of winter, the snails actually reveal clues about the climate and environment of western Egypt, lo those many years ago. They also could shed light on the possible role weather and climate played in the dispersal of humans "out of Africa" and into Europe and Asia. Periods of substantially increased rainfall compared to the present are known to have occurred in the Sahara throughout the last million years, but their duration, intensity, and frequency remain somewhat unconstrained.

Jennifer R. Smith, Ph.D., Washington University assistant professor of earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences, and her doctoral student Johanna M. Kieniewicz, are using stable isotope and minor element analyses of the freshwater gastropod Melanoides tuberculata and carbonate silts from a small lake (now dry) in the Kharga Oasis of western Egypt to reconstruct climatic conditions during the lifetime of the lake. Their analyses support a surprising picture of arid Egypt: 130,000 years ago, what everyone considers an eternal desert was actually a thriving savannah, complete with humans, rhinos, giraffes and other wild life.

Evidence for the hominin presence abounds near the lake in the form of Middle Stone Age artifacts such as stone scrapers and blades.

"The artifacts provide a record that people were coming to the lake," said Smith. "Genetic evidence suggests that 100,000 to 400,000 years ago was a critical time in the evolution and dispersal of African hominins. Our climate data from this 130,000-year-old humid event suggest that this would have been a particularly good time for a northward migration through Africa following reliable water resources, since it seems to be the strongest humid phase in
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Source:Washington University in St. Louis


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