Late Pliocene grassland from Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania.

Bamford MK, Stanistreet IG, Stollhofen H, Albert RM (2008)

Publication Language: English

Publication Type: Journal article, Original article

Publication year: 2008


Publisher: Elsevier

Pages Range: 280-293

Journal Issue: 257

DOI: 10.1016/j.palaeo.2007.09.003


The Olduvai fossil plants documented by us in this paper are the first direct evidence for open grassland in the late Neogene of Africa based on macroplant remains. Silicified remains of herbaceous ground cover are exceptionally well preserved in situ within Late Pliocene sediments below the initial pyroclastic ash surge unit of Tuff IF in the uppermost part of Bed I, Olduvai Gorge, northern Tanzania. Published radiometric and palaeomagnetic dates place this grass layer between 1.839 + 0.005 Ma and 1.785 + 0.01 Ma. Exposed at localities on the south side of the Gorge this herbaceous ground cover grew on a floodplain developed on a dried out lake bed, following pronounced lake retreat of saline-alkaline palaeo-Lake Olduvai during a developing dry climatic phase. Sheathed basal culms, rhizomes and roots are interpreted as those of one or more small mat-forming grasses or less likely, sedges. Small dicotyledonous herbs were probably also present. The proximity of adjacent plants indicates a relatively dense ground cover. Roots extended at least 8 cm below the ground surface. Aerial parts of the plants were absent or were not preserved when the weathered basal culms were covered by a thin layer of brown waxy clay, followed by fallout of pyroclastic ash. Both units were mostly eroded away prior to emplacement of a wet, cool pyroclastic surge which then buried and preserved in situ remnants of the herbaceous ground cover. Preservation of the semi-woody rhizomes implies well-drained soils, otherwise the plant material would have quickly rotted. Collections from discontinuous exposures indicate the grassland covered an area of at least a few hectares. This open grassland would have provided grazing for the Late Pliocene fauna. © 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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Bamford, M.K., Stanistreet, I.G., Stollhofen, H., & Albert, R.M. (2008). Late Pliocene grassland from Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 257, 280-293.


Bamford, Manon K., et al. "Late Pliocene grassland from Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania." Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 257 (2008): 280-293.

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