5. Conclusions

The various mapping exercises discussed here have demonstrated that there is logic in the spatial structure of extant African environments, and that even a relatively simple model of the Earth system suffices to understand these patterns and their causes. This simple model also suggests that, given that the basic structure of the system itself has not changed substantially over the last few million years, there is likely to be some uniformity in the basic patterns of specific environmental variables even where their absolute values have differed. For instance, the presumed uniformity in the structure of the global atmospheric circulation over the last six million years suggested that we would expect palaeoclimates, even where they differ in absolute terms from conditions today, to show a broadly latitudinally banded pattern at the continental scale. In addition, this work has demonstrated that there is a scale – which I have called 'local', but which equates to 5x5 degrees of latitude and longitude rather than the single-site scale more commonly used in palaeoenvironmental reconstruction today – at which our abilities to reconstruct the features of the physical landscape, using a combination of extant maps and palaeodata and to integrate these with data from both simpler continental reconstructions and site-specific studies of palaeoenvironments, might provide an optimal opportunity for understanding palaeolandscapes. This shows that even a basic understanding of the spatial structures of extant environments – as presented in this article - can help us in understanding palaeoanthropological contexts, and may inform on the validity of certain research designs in investigations of hominin-environment relationships. It also points the way to a new approach that capitalises both on direct palaeoenvironmental studies and on broader geographic understandings of the Earth system and the relationships between variables today.


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