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New Evidence Shows How Human Evolution Was Shaped by Climate

Swings between wet and dry landscapes pushed some of our ancestors toward modern traits—and killed off others

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Scrambling up the steep bank of a small wadi, or gully, near the western shore of Lake Turkana in northern Kenya, I stop on a little knoll that offers a view across the vast, mostly barren desert landscape. The glittering, jade-blue lake contrasts in every way with the red-brown landscape around it. This long, narrow desert sea, nestled within Africa's Great Rift Valley, owes its existence to the Omo River, whose winding flow delivers runoff that comes from summer monsoon rains in the Ethiopian highlands, hundreds of miles north.

The heat here has to be respected. By noon it feels like a blast furnace. The sun beats down, and the hot, stony ground fires it back upward. Scanning the dusty horizon, with the lake winking in the distance, I find it hard to imagine this place as anything but a desert.

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