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On a field trip you and your fellow students are hiking near Lake Turkana, a famous fossil locality for early hominins. Walking along what must have been an ancient river tributary that once flowed into the lake, you spy some bone fragments protruding out of the ground in the now dry ancient river bed. These are largely uncovered and on the surface. Looking at them closely, you see a cranium, some fragments of mandibles (jaw bone), and nearby you locate a stone tool (see images below). Remembering back to your archaeology class, you identify the stone tool as an Acheulean handaxe, that most distinctive stone tool of early hominins. The cranium and mandibles are harder to identify, though they definitely are neither modern human, nor primate. Just looking at the fossils, however, you have some clues. The cranium is less prognathous (so the face is flatter) than that of very early australopithecines, yet the skull has a pronounced supraorbital ridge or “brow ridge” above the eyes that is similar to that of the great apes and absent in modern humans. Finally, given your incredible ability to estimate volume without measurement, you estimate the cranial capacity of the skull to be around 800-1,000 cubic centimeters (cc.). Given what you’ve seen, what species of hominin do you conclude that you’ve discovered and why? Also, given the context of the finds, and your recollection of principles of deposition from your archaeology class, where would you look around for more fossils? You and your classmates are excited at the discovery. What do you think you should do? Should you gather up all the fossils you find and take them to authorities? Should you take some photos? Should you start excavating to find more, and possibly more definitive clues? Finally, what type of absolute dating method (think Feder’s chapter 2, e.g. Radiocarbon, Potassium-argon, or dendrochronology) do you think the archaeologists would use to determine the age of these fossils and why?


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