Paleontological Sites in Ethiopia

sof omar cave in ethiopia

Ethiopian Paleontological Sites

Detailed Information on Ethiopian Paleontological Sites

Sites containing hominid fossils are extremely rare and have only been found in a select handful number of locations around the world so it is essential that they be properly excavated for scientific research according to the Leakey Foundation in 2007.

One of these rare locations where many hominid fossils have been found is Hadar, Ethiopia. Many scientists visit this location each year.

Hadar has the right type of geology to preserve hominid fossils because the ground is rich in animal fossils dating about 3 million years according to National Geographic Outpost.

lucy bones laid out on display in ethiopia

In fact, one of the most famous fossil discoveries was made here.

The fossil was discovered by Donald Johanson and Tom Gray in late 1974 and was found to be one of the most significant fossil sites in the world.

It was later excavated from the site and found to be an A. afarensis female.

He named it Lucy (Lucy's Story, 2007).

This find soon lead the search in Ethiopia and because of her there has been more searches in that area which have led to more discoveries. Although Lucy was an extraordinary find, researchers also have to determine other traits of the fossil.

They usually determine the species of the fossil by comparing it to other fossils found in that region and examine the anatomical differences to distinguish differences in species.

Sex of the hominid is determined by analyzing the pelvis bones or the overall size of the hominid.

Age is also sometimes determined by the size of the hominid if it died at a young age or can be estimated by examining the wear on the teeth.

Diet and health can be determined by examining teeth or analyzing chemical existence of trace elements within the bones. Taphonomy is the study of burial and how the animals get into the deposit that preserved it.

Scientists use these techniques to examine the fossil and find certain traces on the bones to determine weathering or trauma in order to tell us what happened.

Many of the hominid fossils found show trauma which appears to be carnivores chewing the bones.

lucy bones at national museum in ethiopia

Teeth marks in hominid bones lead us to believe carnivors chewed the bones either as they killed the hominid or after it died.

Like most hominids, they could not defend themselves from lions or other predators that existed during that time other than simply climbing a tree to escape according to National Geographic Outpost.

Determining the reasons for why the hominid died or how it became fossilized can help researchers find more fossils in the future.

In order to find out when the hominid fossil found lived, scientists have two methods to date the fossil.

They can either use relative or absolute dating techniques. Relative dating is where scientists date the surrounding rock layers above and below the fossil and use the Law of Superposition to determine the fossil's age relative to the surrounding layers which have been dated, assuming that the layers have not moved, according to Kevin Dickinson, author of Human Origins.

Aramis is a village and archaeological site in northeastern Ethiopia, where remains of Australopithecus and Ardipithecus (Ardipithecus ramidus) have been found.

The village is located in the Afar Region with a latitude and longitude of 10 degrees 30 N 40 degrees 30 E, and is part of the Gewane woreda.

Archeologists include the find site near the village as part of the Middle Awash region.

Taphonological and palynological studies have uncovered evidence of a rich fossil flora and fauna including many Canthium seeds, a genus found mainly in African woodlands and forests.

Additionally, fossil medium-sized colobine monkeys and kudas suggest that pre-historic Aramis may have been wet, closed, and wooded, whereas today the Middle Awash is one of the dryest, hottest, and uninhabitable regions of the world.

In 1992 and 1993 a team led by Tim White found in total 17 specimens of hominid fossils at Aramis.

These fossils were dated at 4.4 million years, 500,000 years earlier than the oldest afarensis fossils found in the eastern Middle Awash.

This discovery was published on the front page of New York Times, and later a new genus and species of hominids was proposed, Ardipithecus ramidus.

fossils from middle awash in ethiopia

Bouri Formation

The Bouri Formation is an area in the Middle Awash Valley, in Ethiopia that has provided a rich source of Australopithecines and Homo fossils, artifacts and bones of large mammal with cut marks from butchery.

It is part of the Afar Depression that has created other rich human fossil sites such as Gona and Hadar.

It consists of three geological units called members in which fossils and artifacts from different periods of human evolution have been excavated.

The lowest Hatayae member (2.5 mya) in which Australopithecus garhi fossils have been found, the Dakanihylo member (1 mya) and Homo erectus, and the Herto member lower (260 ka) and upper layers (160 to 154 ka) and Homo sapiens idaltu.

Human remains from the Upper Herto layers have been found with signs of having been changed after death by mortuary practices.

Chororapithecus Abyssinicus

Chororapithecus abyssinicus was an ape that lived about 10 to 10.5 million years ago during the Miocene Epoch.

It is believed to be the earliest known species of gorilla. Its existence indicates that the last common ancestor between the human/chimpanzee lineage and gorillas may have lived greater than 10 to 11 million years ago, which is at least 2 million years earlier than the previously thought date of divergence of about 8 million years ago.

The only evidence found of this extinct ape is currently nine fossilized teeth of at least three individuals, recovered from the Chorora Formation which runs along the southern Afar Depression of Ethiopia (the same place where the remains of Lucy were discovered in 1974).

Analysis of eight molars (two of them fragmented) and a canine tooth show that their structure is partly similar to modern gorillas.

The researchers compared the makeup of the teeth to other current and fossil apes, and concluded that the new ape fossils possibly were a species of gorilla which ate mostly high-fiber plants, and that the fossil species is likely a 'direct ancestor' of the gorillas that currently live in Africa.

Alternatively, the idea that the finds are the remains of early hominids has not been ruled out entirely.

The Dikika region is an area of the Afar Region of Ethiopia where the hominid fossil named Selam (an example of the Australopithecus afarensis species) was found.

Dikika is located in Mille woreda. Dikika is part of the Hadar formation, a series of sedimentary rocks deposited approximately 3.4 million years ago, which have been exposed by the erosive action of the Awash River.

On September 20, 2006, the journal Nature presented the findings of a dig in Dikika, Ethiopia, a few miles south (across the Awash River) from Hadar, the place where the fossil remains known as Lucy was found.

The recovered skeleton comprises almost the entire skull and torso, and many parts of the limbs.

The features of the skeleton suggest adaptation to walking upright (bipedalism) as well as tree-climbing, features that correspond well with the skeletal features of Lucy and other specimens of Australopithecus afarensis from Ethiopia and Tanzania.

CT-scans on her skull show small canine teeth forming, indicating that she was female. "Lucy's Baby" has officially been nicknamed "Selam" (meaning "peace").


Dungur 'Addi Kilte is the name of the ruins of a substantial mansion located in the western part of Aksum, Ethiopia, the former capital of the Kingdom of Aksum.

These ruins are located in the western part of Aksum, across the Gondar road from the Gudit Stelae field.

Dungur is known locally and popularly as the Palace of the Queen of Sheba (i.e. the Palace of Makeda in Ethiopia).

However, Stuart Munro-Hay describes it as "the sort of dwelling that a prosperous Aksumite, perhaps a noble or high official of the fourth to sixth centuries AD, might have constructed for himself."

The Awash basin extends for about 3000 km sq at a height between 2500 and 2000 m a.s.l.

It is delimited by several Pliocene volcanoes, the largest being the Wachacha and the Furi to the north, and the Boti and Agoiabi to the south.

It is bordered to the east by the Ethiopian rift, part of the great rift system of eastern Africa.

Fluvial sedimentation (pebbles, gravel, sand, and clay) was frequently interrupted by volcanic activity, whose products are important markers for stratigraphic correlations between the different archaeological sequences identified so far. Over 70 archaeological levels have been discovered so far, and more or less wide extensions of about 30 of them have been excavated.

Middle Awash

The Middle Awash is an archaeological site along the Awash River in Ethiopia's Afar Depression. A number of Pleistocene and late Miocene hominid remains have been found at the site, along with some of the oldest known Olduwan stone artifacts and patches of fire-baked clay, disputed evidence of the use of fire.

Chimpanzee and human lineages are thought to have split around this time, somewhere between 5 million and 7 million years ago.

Sediments at the site were originally deposited in lakes or rivers, and carbonates found there contain low carbon isotope ratios.

This information suggests that, in contrast to the aridity of the current climate, the environment of the Middle Awash during the late Miocene was wet, and the region was occupied by woodland or grassy woodland habitats.

The fossilized remains of vertebrates found with the hominids, including the cane rat, further suggest such an environment.

The region was also the site of periodic volcanism.

This rifting probably created distinct ecological regions inhabited by different species of vertebrate animals.

Important hominid fossils found in the Middle Awash include:

Ardipithecus kadabba

Ardipithecus is a fossil hominoid, described by its discoverers as a very early hominin genus. Two species are described in the literature: A. ramidus, which lived about 4.4 million years ago during the early Pliocene, and A. kadabba, dated to approximately 5.6 million years ago (late Miocene).

Ardipithecus ramidus

Australopithecus afarensis

Australopithecus garhi

Australopithecus anamensis

Homo erectus

The Omo Kibish

The Omo Kibish formation is one of several sites within an ancient rocky formation called Kibish in Omo National Park, southwest Ethiopia.

The Kibish outcrop is where excavations by Richard Leakey and others recovered Homo sapiens remains as old as 125,000 years BCE. Omo Kibish-1, also known as Kamoya's Hominid Site (KHS), contained a nearly complete skeleton of an adult male Homo sapiens.

The Kibish outcrop is named after the nearby village of Kibish, one of the villages of the Nyangatom people.

The village lies close to the east bank of the Omo River at the base of the Nkalabong Range in Ethiopia. The Omo Valley is extremely rich in significant palaeo-anthropological remains.

According to scientific research done in 1982 by the University of California at Berkeley, hominid remains from the Omo Valley date back more than four million years.

However, more recent potassium-argon dating of the volcanic tuffs at Omo Kibish-1 suggests that they date between 104,000 and 196,000 years ago, and that the likeliest date is closer to 195,000.

If this date is correct, it makes Omo Kibish the earliest known Homo sapiens site on the planet. When the bones of two early humans were found in 1967 near Kibish, Ethiopia, they were thought to be 130,000 years old.

Some years later, researchers found human bones at Herto, in Ethiopia.

They were dated using more modern techniques and found to be 154kya to 160kya.

This initiated a new study of the 1967 fossil site, using modern dating techniques.

The results at Omo Kibish-1 indicate that the earliest known members of our species, Homo sapiens, roamed Africa about 195,000 years ago.

"It pushes back the beginning of anatomically modern humans", says geologist Frank Brown, a co-author of the study and dean of the University of Utah's College of Mines and Earth Sciences.

The journal Nature has published the study in its February 17, 2005, issue.

Brown conducted the research with geologist and geochronologist Ian McDougall of Australian National University in Canberra, and anthropologist John Fleagle of New York State's Stony Brook University.

The researchers dated mineral crystals in volcanic ash layers above and below layers of river sediments that contain the early human bones.

"They conclude the fossils are much older than a 104,000-year-old volcanic layer and very close in age to a 196,000-year-old layer", says Brown.

Melka Kunture

Melka Kunture is a Palaeolithic site in Ethiopia.

It is located 50 kilometers south of Addis Ababa by road, across the Awash River from the village of Melka Awash, with a latitude and longitude of 8 degree 41 0 N 37 deree 38 0 E.

Three waterfalls lie downstream of the bridge across the Awash here, which provides access south to Butajira.

French archeologists sponsored by the Mission Archeologique Francaise en Ethiopie have worked in the neighborhood of Melka Kunture since the 1960s, uncovering over 30 occupation sites.

The finds are dated by volcanic depositions left by eruptions of Mount Zuqualla, southeast of Melka Kunture.

A museum was built at the site by the Oromia Culture and Tourism Commission with financial assistance from the European Community, consisting of four buildings of exhibits - one on Prehistoric Africa, another on Geology and Volcanology, a third on Paleoanthropology, the fourth on the Prehistory of Melka Kunture - and the "Open Air Museum", which displays the excavation of two Acheulean sites that have been dated to 0.8 Million years Before Present.