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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Dec 11;109(50):20369-72. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1204209109. Epub 2012 Nov 12.

Isotopic evidence for an early shift to C₄ resources by Pliocene hominins in Chad.

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Research Laboratory for Archaeology, Oxford University, Oxford OX1 3QY, United Kingdom.


Foods derived from C(4) plants were important in the dietary ecology of early Pleistocene hominins in southern and eastern Africa, but the origins and geographic variability of this relationship remain unknown. Carbon isotope data show that Australopithecus bahrelghazali individuals from Koro Toro in Chad are significantly enriched in (13)C, indicating a dependence on C(4) resources. As these sites are over 3 million years in age, the results extend the pattern of C(4) dependence seen in Paranthropus boisei in East Africa by more than 1.5 million years. The Koro Toro hominin fossils were found in argillaceous sandstone levels along with abundant grazing and aquatic faunal elements that, in combination, indicate the presence of open to wooded grasslands and stream channels associated with a greatly enlarged Lake Chad. In such an environment, the most abundant C(4) plant resources available to A. bahrelghazali were grasses and sedges, neither of which is usually considered as standard great ape fare. The results suggest an early and fundamental shift in hominin dietary ecology that facilitated the exploitation of new habitats.

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