Aerial map demonstrates erosional patterns and changing topography at Isimila, Tanzania

Keywords: Middle Pleistocene, East Africa, Acheulean/Acheulian, site topography, uncrewed/unmanned aerial vehicle, drone map


Isimila is a Middle Pleistocene archaeological site located in southern Tanzania. The site is known for large surface assemblages of later Acheulean lithics such as hand axes, cleavers, scrapers and cores. While hominin remains have yet to be discovered at the site, Isimila offers a unique window into Middle Pleistocene Homo behaviour. Although Isimila has been studied extensively, the last published map of the site and surrounding area was made available in the 1970s. Here, we present an updated high-resolution map of Isimila. Data for the map were collected during aerial survey with an uncrewed(unmanned) aerial vehicle. With this map, we identified new archaeological localities, erosional patterns, newly exposed geological features and changes in site topography. The map demonstrates patterns of stone tool and raw material distribution that may support previous hypotheses of short-distance raw material transport into the area by hominins. This open-access map establishes a baseline for tracking changes to site topography in the future and serves as a unique tool to enable collaboration between researchers, museum personnel and local populations to better conserve Isimila.


  • New potential archaeological localities and significant changes to erosional patterns at Isimila were identified.
  • The open access map and associated raw data provided enable researchers to track seasonal and erosional changes and anthropogenic effects, and to develop protocols for conservation of this unique site.

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