The Middle Awash study area of Ethiopia's Afar rift has yielded abundant vertebrate fossils (≈ 10,000), including several hominid taxa. The study area contains a long sedimentary record spanning Late Miocene (5.3-11.2 Myr ago) to Holocene times. Exposed in a unique tectonic and volcanic transition zone between the main Ethiopian rift (MER) and the Afar rift, sediments along the western Afar rift margin in the Middle Awash provide a unique window on the Late Miocene of Ethiopia. These deposits have now yielded the earliest hominids, described in an accompanying paper and dated here to between 5.54 and 5.77 Myr. These geological and palaeobiological data from the Middle Awash provide fresh perspectives on hominid origins and early evolution. Here we show that these earliest hominids derive from relatively wet and wooded environments that were modulated by tectonic, volcanic, climatic and geomorphic processes. A similar wooded habitat also has been suggested for the 6.0 Myr hominoid fossils recently recovered from Lukeino, Kenya. These findings require fundamental reassessment of models that invoke a significant role for global climatic change and/or savannah habitat in the origin of hominids.
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