Video courtesy of Bournemouth University

Dispersal patterns of early human ancestors in East Africa relied heavily on the distribution of groundwater, new research suggests. Previously, the hominin movements were thought to have relied solely on climate shifts; however, it was unknown what sustained their survival in extremely dry weather when fresh water was scarce. Researchers mapped the current landscape in the East African Rift System, identifying over 450 current groundwater springs, to produce a model of how groundwater distribution varies with climate. They coupled these data and models with modelling of hominin movements, and found that it was groundwater that helped our early cousins survive the drought.


M. O. Cuthbert, T. Gleeson, S. C. Reynolds, M. R. Bennett, A. C. Newton, C. J. McCormack & G. M. Ashley

Corresponding author: 

Mark Cuthbert, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK, Email:

Canadian author: 

Tom Gleeson, Department of Civil Engineering and School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria, BC, Email:

Original paper published in Nature Communications on May 30, 2017.