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Deposits in the Gona Paleoanthropological Research Project (GPRP) area in east-central Ethiopia span most of the last ~6.4 m.y. and are among the longest and most complete paleoenvironmental and human fossil archives in East Africa. The 40Ar/39Ar and paleomagnetic dates and tephrostratigraphic correlations establish the time spans for the four formations present at Gona: the Adu-Asa (>6.4–5.2 Ma), Sagantole (>4.6–3.9 Ma), Hadar (3.8–2.9 Ma), and Busidima Formations (2.7 to <0.16 Ma). The volcano-sedimentary succession at Gona displays many classic tectono-sedimentary features of an evolving rift basin. The mixed volcanic and fluviolacustrine Adu-Asa Formation is the earliest expression of rifting at Gona, probably deposited in a small half-graben. The Sagantole and Hadar Formations were deposited in a much larger half-graben bounded to the E-NE by an as-yet-unidentified normal fault. The Sagantole and Hadar Formations are both fluvial and lacustrine, reflecting periodic shallow impoundment of a low-gradient paleo–Awash River, perhaps by an accommodation zone north of the Ledi-Geraru project area.

Starting at 2.9–2.7 Ma, the character of sedimentation changed dramatically throughout the Awash Valley as bed load coarsened and the meandering paleo–Awash River cyclically cut and filled. Unlike the Hadar Formation, the Busidima Formation thickens westward, suggesting deposition in a half-graben of the opposite polarity compared to Sagantole/Hadar time. Sedimentation rates decreased 5-fold, from 0.25 mm/yr in the Hadar Formation to 0.05 mm/yr in the Busidima Formation, perhaps in response to slowing extension rates and/or opening of the half-graben north of Gona.

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