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Syracuse Symposium explores the impact of climate on the migration of early modern humans

November 04, 2008

Judy Holmes
(315) 443-2201

Judy Holmes

Syracuse University earth sciences professor Chris Scholz will present "The Environmental Background of Our Early Ancestors: East African Mega Droughts and the Migrations of Early Modern Humans" Wednesday, Nov. 12, at 4 p.m. in the Life Sciences Complex Lundgren Room (Room 106). The lecture, presented by Syracuse Symposium 2008, is free and open to the public.

Intended for a broad interdisciplinary audience, the lecture will focus on the results of recent scientific drilling in Africa's Great Lakes. These international, interdisciplinary projects are providing the first long-duration, high-precision climate histories in localities where modern human species first emerged.

Scholz's current research, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, involves reconstructing the past climates of tropical Africa from sediments found in the lakes of East Africa's Great Rift Valley. In 2005, he led an international team of researchers on a scientific drilling expedition to Lake Malawi-one of the world's largest, deepest and oldest lakes. The team recovered continuous sediment cores from more than 1,200 feet below the lake bottom.

The first results of the Lake Malawi Drilling Project were recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, where the team reported on a series of mega droughts that prevailed in tropical Africa between 150,000 and 70,000 years ago. These episodes of severe climate variability are thought to have impacted the migration of early modern humans and the ultimate exodus of Homo sapiens from the African continent. The climate moderation that followed the series of mega droughts may also have enabled the dramatic population expansion known to have occurred at about that time.

Syracuse Symposium is a semester-long intellectual and artistic festival celebrating interdisciplinary thinking, imagining, and creating, presented by The College of Arts and Sciences to the entire Syracuse community. The fall 2008 symposium theme is migration. Further information about the symposium is available on the Web at

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