Indiana University Bloomington

Jackson Njau

Jackson Njau

Assistant Professor, Geological Sciences
Paleoanthropology

Office:   GY513
Phone:   812-856-3170
Email:   jknjau@indiana.edu
Tanzanian Course Website

Non-Departmental Academic Positions

  • Research Associate, The Stone Age Institute and CRAFT (Center for Research into the Anthropological Foundations of Technology), Bloomington, Indiana. website
  • Adjunct Professor, Department of Anthropology, Indiana University

Educational Background

  • Ph.D., 2006, Rutgers University
  • M.A., 2000, Rutgers University
  • B.A. 1992, University of Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

Previous Positions

  • 2009-11 Postdoctoral Research Scholar, Human Evolution Research Center, University of California, Berkeley
  • 2006-11 Principal Curator, National Museum of Tanzania, Tanzania

Research Interests

My research seeks to understand the relationship between African paleolandscapes and human evolution. My research combines a broad range of paleoanthropological methods and approaches including archaeology, paleontology, taphonomy, and occasionally actualistic studies of predators in natural environments. The primary interest of my research is to determine the role of ecological pressures operating on varying paleolandscapes on human evolution. Over the last ten years my research has focused on the impact of crocodile predation on hominid behavior and adaptation at an Olduvai Gorge site, which is perhaps the most famous of all archaeological sites informing on human evolution. My research integrates: (1) ecological and taphonomical data from modern analogous African wildlife settings; (2) field archaeology; and (3) taphonomic analysis of vertebrate and hominid fossils.

My recent research includes the experimental determination of biological agents (e.g., crocodiles, hyenas, lions) of bone surface modifications in paleontological and archaeological records. This work is crucial in discriminating different taxa of feeding carnivorous animals in the fossil record as well as the ecology and behavior of fossil predators. I have also conducted observations of feeding behaviors by crocodiles, hyenas and other carnivores in natural environments such as Serengeti, Masek, Ngorongoro and other wildlife areas in Tanzania (website). Currently my students are expanding on geomorphological, geochemical and geometric morphometric aspects of this ongoing actualistic research.

My other area of research explores the link between: (1) variation of resources and hazards on paleolandscapes; and (2) the distribution of hominid activities as well as trace fossils across the Plio-Pleistocene Olduvai Basin. This work involves a multidisciplinary approach including geological, geochemical, paleontological, archaeological, paleoecological research, and ecological modeling to reconstruct hominid foraging patterns in unexposed prehistoric landscapes extending beyond the modern gorge.

Courses Taught

  • GEOL-G 104 Evolution of the Earth
  • GEOL-G 490 Landscape Paleoecology
  • GEOL-G 561 Paleoecology
  • GEOL-G 637 Tectonics of the African Rift System (Co-taught with Prof. M. Hamburger)
  • GEOL-G 690 Advanced Seminar on Vertebrate Taphonomy and Paleoecology of East African Rift System
  • GEOL-G 690 Advanced Seminar on Evolution of Terrestrial Ecosystems

Graduate Student Projects

David Grossnickle (M.Sc., 2013). Angiosperm radiation decreased diversity in Cretaceous mammals.

Brendan Fenerty (M.Sc.). Beyond the Gorge: A High-Resolution Reconstruction of the Plio-Pleistocene Paleogeographic and Climatic Context of Hominin Evolution in the Olduvai Basin, Tanzania.

Paul Farrugia (Ph.D.). Tectonics, climate and the reconstruction of Plio-Pleistocene hominin landscapes at Olduvai Gorge.

Silvia Ascari (M.Sc.). Geochemistry and isotopic analysis of African late Cenozoic fauna.

Research Projects

Over the years I have co-led various interdisciplinary research projects in Africa including the Olduvai Gorge Landscape Paleoanthropology Project (OLAPP), Olduvai Vertebrate Paleontology Project (OVPP) and Olduvai Geochronology and Archaeology Project (OGAP). Currently I am co-directing the Olduvai and Beyond Project.

Representative Publications

Njau, J.K. Olduvai Gorge Archaeological Site. C. Smith (ed.), Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology, DOI 10.1007/978-1-4419-0465-2 (accepted).

Masao, F.T., Anton, S., and Njau, J.K. (2013). Results of recent investigations of the Oldowan and associated hominid remains at the DK site, Olduvai Gorge. In: Africa, cradle of humanity: Recent discoveries. Centre National de Recherches Prehistoriques, Anthropologiques et Historiques. Nouvelle serie no. 18, Pp. 147-187.

Njau, J.K. (2012). Reading Pliocene Bones. Science 336, 46-47.

Njau, J.K. (2012). Crocodile predation and hominin evolution: Landcscape paleoanthropology at Olduvai Gorge. LAP GmbH and Co. KG. Saarbrucken, Germany, pp. 323.

Njau, J.K. and Blumenschine, R.J. (2012). Crocodylian and Mammalian Carnivore Feeding Traces on Hominin Fossils from FLK 22 and FLK NN 3, Late Pliocene, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Journal of Human Evolution 63, 408-417.

Blumenschine, R.J., Stanistreet, I.G., Njau, J.K., et al. (2012). Environments and Hominin Activities across FLK Peninsula During Zinjanthropus Times (1.84 Ma), Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Journal of Human Evolution 63, 364-383.

Westaway, M., Thompson, J.,Wood, W., and Njau, J.K. (2011). Crocodile ecology and the taphonomy of early Australasian sites. Environmental Archaeology 16, (2) 124-136.

Brochu, C.A., Njau, J.K., Blumenschine, and R.J., Densmore, L.D. (2010). A New Horned Crocodile From Plio-Pleistocene Hominid Sites at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. PLoS One 5(2), e9333.

Njau, J.K. and Hlusko, L.J. (2010). Fine-Tuning Paleoanthropological Reconnaissance using High-Resolution Satellite Imagery: The Discovery of 28 New Sites in Tanzania. Journal of Human Evolution 59, 680-684.

Louchart, A., Wesselman, H., Blumenschine, R.J., Hlusko, L.J., Njau, J.K., Black, M.T., Asnake, M., White, T.D. (2009). Taphonomic, Avian, and Small Vertebrate Indicators of Ardipithecus ramidus Habitat. Science 326, 66.

Blumenschine, R.J., Peters, C.R., Njau, J.K. et al. (2007). Vertebrate taphonomic perspectives on Oldowan hominin land use in the Plio-Pleistocene Olduvai Basin, Tanzania. In: Breathing Life into Fossils: Taphonomic Studies in Honor of C.K. Brain (T. Pickering, K. Schick, N. Toth eds). IN, Stone Age Institute Press. Pp. 161-179.

Njau, J.K. and Blumenschine, R.J. (2006). A Diagnosis of Crocodile Damage to Large Vertebrate Bones, with Fossil Examples from Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Journal of Human Evolution 50, 142-162.

Blumenschine, R.J., Peters, C.R., Njau, J.K. et al. (2003). Late Pliocene Homo and Hominid Land Use from Western Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Science 299, 1217-1221.

Current Professional Service

At departmental level I am a member of the graduate admission committee.

At the national and international level I am a regular reviewer of national and international journals and I have served as a member of scientific advisory committee of the South African Palaeontological Scientific Trust (PAST), the executive secretary of the East African Association for Paleoanthropology and Paleontology (EAAPP), and co-led the Olduvai Comprehensive Database Initiative .