Biogeochemical evidence for environmental changes of Pleistocene Lake Olduvai during the transitional sequence of OGCP core 2A that encompasses Tuff IB (~1.848 Ma)

Andrea M. Shilling, Devon E. Colcord, Jonathan Karty, Angela Hansen, Katherine H. Freeman, Jackson K. Njau, Ian G. Stanistreet, Harald Stollhofen, Kathy D. Schick, Nicholas Toth, Simon C. Brassell

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9 Scopus citations


Olduvai Gorge is renowned for discoveries of hominin fossils and tools in a well-resolved sedimentary context, representing one of the foremost sites in East Africa that has afforded critical evidence of hominin evolution. In 2014, the Olduvai Gorge Coring Project (OGCP) recovered the first deep sediment cores from this location. These cores provide the first opportunity to examine an extensive stratigraphic record from one location and independent of the weathering and related degradation typical of outcrop samples. Samples from these cores have been correlated to Bed I tuffs and basalt marker beds that are well characterized from outcrops within the gorge. This study focuses on the biogeochemical investigation of a ~10 m segment from OGCP sediment core 2A, where age constraints indicate deposition occurred over ~50,000 years (from 1.8055 ± 0.003 Ma to 1.8551 ± 0.013 Ma). The segment includes Tuff IB and IF, which were deposited at a time that prior research indicates represents marked changes in the paleoenvironment at Olduvai, with indications that Paleolake Olduvai may have been completely desiccated by the time Tuff IF was deposited. This environmental change is recorded by the composition of sedimentary organic matter (OM) in terms of bulk organic geochemical properties observed as a decrease in % TOC and δ13Corg. In addition, temporal variations in source-specific biomarkers (n-alkanes, phytane, steradienes, A-norsteranes and alkenones) reflect a shift from a deeper lake setting with a prevalence of aquatic-sourced OM combined with input from terrestrial plant waxes to a more shallow, perennial lake where evidence of burrows and erosional surfaces is associated with microbially degraded OM and intermittent aquatic biomarkers. Thus, variations in biogeochemical proxies complement the sedimentological evidence confirming increased periods of prolonged desiccation of Paleolake Olduvai beginning around the time of Tuff IB deposition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number109267
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
StatePublished - Oct 15 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Palaeontology


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