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Keywords:

  • Australopithecus;
  • Homo;
  • Paranthropus;
  • taxonomy;
  • East Africa

Abstract

The Omo-Turkana Basin, including the hominin fossil sites around Lake Turkana and the sites along the lower reaches of the Omo River, has made and continues to make an important contribution to improving our murky understanding of human evolution. This review highlights the various ways the Omo-Turkana Basin fossil record has contributed to, and continues to challenge, interpretations of human evolution. Despite many diagrams that look suspiciously like comprehensive hypotheses about human evolutionary history, any sensible paleoanthropologist knows that the early hominin fossil record is too meager to do anything other than offer very provisional statements about hominin taxonomy and phylogeny. If history tells us anything, it is that we still have much to learn about the hominin clade. Thus, we summarize the current state of knowledge of the hominin species represented at the Omo-Turkana Basin sites. We then focus on three specific topics for which the fossil evidence is especially relevant: the origin and nature of Paranthropus; the origin and nature of early Homo; and the ongoing debate about whether the pattern of human evolution is more consistent with speciation by cladogenesis, with greater taxonomic diversity or with speciation by anagenetic transformation, resulting in less taxonomic diversity and a more linear interpretation of human evolutionary history. © Wiley Periodicals, Inc.