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What is the CECD? 
The CECD is an AHRC funded research group dedicated to examining the evolutionary underpinnings of human cultural behaviour, past and present. more>

Page Title - projects
Phase 1: Ecological dimensions of cultural evolution: Project 026
Ecology and evolution of hominin geographical ranges

SUPERVISOR: - James Steele

Dr. Katharine MacDonald


There have been numerous changes in hominin geographic ranges in the course of human evolution, indicated by the distribution of fossil and archaeological sites. Studying this variability has the potential to give us valuable information about human evolution and early hominin behaviour. In this thesis I have used comparative analysis to set a context for archaeological interpretation of hominin behaviour and distribution. My approach has been to carry out comparative analyses of distribution in modern primates and carnivores, in order to create such an interpretative context. In addition, these analyses will contribute to our understanding of the distribution of contemporary species.
I carried out a cross-species analysis of primate distribution in relation to physical and behavioural characteristics and environmental factors using GIS and statistical techniques. I also investigated large-scale spatial patterns in African mammal distribution, according to large taxonomic groups that are broadly related to diet. Based on the results of the first analysis, I was able to reject the hypothesis that primate species range expansion and tolerance of environmental variability is determined by behavioural flexibility, social learning or a relatively rapid reproductive rate. The second analysis identified strong differences in the spatial distribution of African carnivores, ungulates and primates; these are influenced by differences in dietary niche. In order to find out whether the comparative models can be tested using archaeological and fossil data, I examined the evidence for early hominin distribution and ecological niches for the period 1.8-0.6 myr ago in Africa. From this, I concluded that during this period there was a contrast between the ecological characteristics and distribution of H. erectus and the robust australopithecines that can best be explained by a shift in dietary niche.

Katharine MacDonald (2006).
The Ecology and Evolution of Hominin Geographic Ranges Setting a context for archaeological interpretation using comparative analysis. BAR S1550 . British Archaeological Reports (BAR) (S1550). Archaeopress: Oxford.
Reader, S. M. and MacDonald, K (2003).
Environmental variability and primate behavioural flexibility. In: S.M. Reader & K. N. Laland (eds.) (ed\s) Animal Innovation. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 83-116.
MacDonald, K. (2002).
Statistical analysis of the distribution of modern primates: a comparative approach to the spatial analysis of the Palaeolithic. In: Goran Burenhult & Johan Arvidsson (eds.) (ed\s) Archaeological Informatics: Pushing the Envelope. CAA 2001: Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology. Proceedings of the 29th Conference, Gotland, April 2001. BAR International Series: Oxford. 105-12.