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Innovative tephra studies in the East African Rift System

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Abstract

Geosciences investigations form the foundation for paleoanthropological research in the East African Rift System. However, innovative applications of tephra studies for constraining spatial and temporal relations of diverse geological processes, biostratigraphic records, and paleoenvironmental conditions within the East African Rift System were fueled by paleoanthropological investigations into the origin and evolution of hominids and material culture. Tephra is a collective, size-independent term used for any material ejected during an explosive volcanic eruption.

The East African Rift System has become a magnet for paleoanthropological research ever since the discovery of the first hominids at Olduvai Gorge, in Tanzania, in the 1950s [Leakey et al., 1961]. Currently, numerous multidisciplinary scientific teams from academic institutions in the United States and Western Europe make annual pilgrimages for a couple of months to conduct paleoanthropological field research in the fossil-rich sedimentary deposits of the East African Rift System in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania. The field expedition consists of geological, paleontological, archaeological, and paleoenvironmental investigations.

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