Last Friday, with the Columbia Center for Archaeology, Dr. Lamya Khalidi presented her research on human adaptation to the changing climate in the Afar Lowlands of Ethiopia during the early to late Holocene.

Archaeological aficionados excitedly filed into a small classroom in Schermerhorn Hall last Friday, ready for a guest lecture by Dr. Lamya Khalidi, fellow at the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies. At the first of four upcoming lectures hosted by the Columbia Center for Archaeology, Khalidi discussed her archaeological work in Ethiopia and its connections to paleoclimatology.

Khalidi’s fieldwork takes place in the Afar region of Ethiopia, an extremely topographically diverse area with highlands approximately 16,000 feet in elevation and plains below sea level. She specifically described research that takes place in the Lower Awash Valley and northern Lake Abhe basin.

Before diving into her archaeological research, Khalidi provided some context on the area’s climate—the region falls within the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ), where northerly and southerly trade winds meet each other. Due to the convergence, areas in the ITCZ experience high humidity and precipitation.

Khalidi noted that the Afar region’s climate has fluctuated over time. Her research focuses on the area during the time period of 12,000 to 2,000 years ago, during an area known as the African Humid Period. During this time, the ICTZ migrated northward and the area experienced an increase in precipitation repeatedly interrupted by short dry periods.

This cycle of alternating high precipitation and intense dryness is key to understanding some of the results of Khalidi’s archaeological work. From her research, she was able to conclude that the humans of the area were adapted to live in such a varying environment. As the climate moistened and dried, the lakes of the area expanded and contracted—humans living in the area moved with the changing shorelines, sometimes within the short time span of only 100 years.

Khalidi made it clear, however, that we cannot assume a causal relationship between the changing climate and human migration. All we can infer is that the humans living in the area were able to move quickly in time with the changing lake shorelines—not that the changing climate was causing them to migrate.

A large portion of the lecture was spent discussing how archaeology can be linked to paleoenvironmental science. Comparing datasets between the two fields can help to not only cross-check for errors or discrepancies, but also to identify potential relationships between humans and the environment.

At the end of the lecture, questions were plentiful and Khalidi was excited to field them. She explained everything so that any non-archaeologist could understand, while staying interesting to those with a higher level of knowledge. With her casual and friendly presentation style, Khalidi’s lecture was a great start to this four-part series!

Afar Lowlands via Columbia Center for Archaeology