The expansion of the Acheulian to the Southeastern Ethiopian Highlands: Insights from the new early Pleistocene site-complex of Melka Wakena

Erella Hovers, Tegenu Gossa, Asfawossen Asrat, Elizabeth M. Niespolo, Angesom Resom, Paul R. Renne, Ravid Ekshtain, Gadi Herzlinger, Natnael Ketema, Bienvenido Martínez-Navarro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Current models of early hominin biological and cultural evolution are shaped almost entirely by the data accumulated from the East African Rift System (EARS) over the last decades. In contrast, little is known about the archaeological record from the high-elevation regions on either side of the Rift. Melka Wakena is a newly discovered site-complex on the Southeastern Ethiopian Highlands (SEH) (>2300 m above mean sea level) just east of the central sector of the Main Ethiopian Rift (MER), where eight archaeological and two paleontological localities were discovered to date. Nine archaeological horizons from three localities were tested so far, all dated to the second half of the early Pleistocene (∼1.6 to >0.7 Ma). All the lithic assemblages belong to the Acheulian technocomplex. Here we report on geochronological, stratigraphic, paleontological and lithic technological aspects of the tested localities and contextualize them in the broader framework of hominin cultural evolution in eastern Africa. Findings from Melka Wakena, assessed against the backdrop of the few other highland sites (Melka Kunture and Gadeb), support a scenario of expansion rather than dispersal from the Rift to the highlands. When considered in the context of the Rift-highlands interface, results of the first-phase research at Melka Wakena help to parse existing general models into archaeologically testable hypotheses and demonstrate the site's potential to contribute to research of early prehistory and to understanding the dynamics of early Pleistocene hominin populations in eastern Africa.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number106763
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
StatePublished - Feb 1 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology
  • Geology


  • Acheulian
  • Dino formation
  • Early stone age
  • Eastern africa
  • Geographic expansion
  • Highlands occupation
  • Lithic technology
  • Melka wakena site-complex
  • Site formation processes
  • early Pleistocene


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