Abstract

The rich record of vertebrate, hominin and archaeological remains recovered from Olduvai Gorge in northern Tanzania stands in stark contrast to the largely unexplored macroinvertebrate record from the region. Here we examine fossil malacofauna from Olduvai Gorge, inclusive of new discoveries and previous reports, and survey their potential as paleoecologic indicators. Recorded for the first time from Olduvai, an assemblage of fossil bivalve shells is attributed by character comparison to modern Chambardia wahlbergi, a freshwater unionid species widespread across Africa. The fossilized shells were localized in Bed III conglomerate channel deposits, with channel geometry exhibiting scour bases and superimposed fill structures with fining upward sequences. The ecology of recent C. wahlbergi combined with sedimentological data indicate the aquatic environment in this region during Olduvai Bed III times can be reconstructed as a periodically desiccated floodplain bordering a river channel or channels with permanent running water and marked seasonal fluctuations. This paleo-environmental setting presents drastic change compared with that of the lower Bed I and Bed II deposits, when an alkaline/saline lake extended over the site and fresh water was restricted to standing groundwater-fed pools with snail species known today to be intermediate hosts for the trematode genera Schistosoma (schistosomiasis) and Fasciola (fascioliasis). This research enhances details of landscape evolution at Olduvai basin and furthers paleoenvironmental interpretations during the time of Bed III deposition.

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