Jackson Njau

Jackson Njau

Associate Professor, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

Research Associate, The Stone Age Institute

Research Associate, Center for Research into the Anthropological Foundations of Technology

Adjunct Professor, Anthropology


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

Research interests

My research seeks to understand the relationship between paleoenvironmental processes and evolution of early humans. My research combines broad range of paleoanthropological approaches including archaeology, paleontology, taphonomy, geology and occasionally actualistic studies of predators in natural environments. The primary interest of my research is to determine ecological conditions that influenced changes in hominin behavior and biology through time. Over the last fifteen years my research has focused on the impact of crocodile predation on hominin evolution at Olduvai Gorge a site, which is perhaps the most famous of all archaeological sites in the world informing on human evolution. Currently, I am co-directing a scientific drilling research program that investigates the deep record at Paleolake Olduvai Basin to determine paleoclimatic and paleoenvironmental contexts in which early hominins evolved. 


Research projects

Over the years I have co-led various interdisciplinary research projects in Africa:

  • Currently, I am co-directing the Olduvai Gorge Coring Project (OGCP). The objective of this project is to reconstruct paleoenvironmental contexts of hominin evolution through scientific drilling. While the drill cores provide detailed records of climate history, paleoenvironments and new radiometric age of paleoanthropological contexts, OGCP is also investigating the development of Olduvai Paleolake Basin by using passive seismic surveys.
  • Olduvai Geochronology and Archaeology Project http://www.olduvai-gorge.org/
  • Olduvai Vertebrate Paleontology Project http://olduvai-paleo.org/ovpp/
  • Olduvai Gorge Landscape Paleoanthropology Project

Graduate student projects

  • Silvia Ascari M.Sc. Isotopic Analyses of Fossil Bones and Teeth of Herbivores and Crocodiles from Upper Bed I-Upper Bed II, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania.
  • Paul Farrugia Ph.D. Crocodylian Craniodental Ecomorphology and Ecological Niche Modeling: A New Approach for Reconstructing Hominin Paleoecology in the East African Rift System.
  • Danielle Peliter-Thompson Ph.D. Abiotic Influence on Paleoecology of Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania and its Implications on the Evolution of Hominin Morphology

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 grants, and I have served in various capacities within international professional organizations, including the South African Palaeontological Scientific Trust (PAST) as a member of the scientific advisory committee and the East African Association for Paleoanthropology and Paleontology (EAAPP) as Vice President.

Develop the Olduvai Comprehensive Database Initiative http://olduvai-paleo.org/ in collaboration with Prof. Leslea Hlusko.

Selected publications

Torre, I., McHenry, L.J., and Njau, J.K. 2018. Special Issue: From the Oldowan to the Acheulean at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Journal of Human Evolution 120:1-421 DOI

Ascari, S., Njau, J.K., Polly, P.D., Sauer, P., and Peng, Y. 2018. Fossil herbivores and crocodiles as paleoclimatic indicators of environmental shifts from Bed I and Bed II times of the Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 511:550-557 DOI

Stanistreet, I.G., Stollhofen, H., Njau, J.K., Farrugia, P., Masao, F.T., Albert, R.M., Bamford, M.K. and Pante, M. 2018. Lahar inundated, modified and preserved 1.88 Ma early hominin (OH24 and OH56) Olduvai DK site. J. Hum. Evol. 116:27-42. DOI

Colcord, D.E., Shilling, A.M., Sauer, P., Freeman, K.H., Njau, J.K., Stanistreet, I.G., Stollhofen, H., Schick, K.D., Toth, N., and Brassell, S.C. 2018. Sub-Milankovitch palaeoclimatic and paleoenvironmental variability in East Africa recorded by Pleistocene lacustrine sediments from Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 495:284-291. DOI

Pante, M.C., Njau, J.K., Hensley-Marschand, B., Keevil, T.L., Martín-Ramos, C., Peters, R.F., and Torre, I. 2018. The carnivorous feeding behavior of early Homo at HWK EE, Bed II, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Journal of Human Evolution 120:215-235. DOI

Prassack, K., Pante, M.C., Njau, J.K., and de la Torre, I. 2018. The Paleoecology of Fossil Birds from Middle Bed II, at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Journal of Human Evolution 120:32-47. DOI

Rivals, F., Uno, K., Bibi, F., Pante, M., Njau, J.K., and de la Torre, I. 2018. Dietary traits of the ungulates from the HWK EE site at Olduvai Gorge,Tanzania: Diachronic changes and seasonality. Journal of Human Evolution 120:203-214. DOI

Bibi, F., Pante, M., Souron, A., Stewart, K., Varela, S., Werdelin, L., Boisserie, J.R., Fortelius, M., Hlusko, L., Njau, J.K., and de la Torre, I. 2018. Large mammals and fish from the Oldowan-Acheulean transition at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, and the paleoecology of the Serengeti. Journal of Human Evolution 120:48-75. DOI

Uno, K., Rivals, F., Bibi, F., Pante, M., Njau, J.K., and de la Torre, I. 2018. Large mammal diets and paleoecology across the Oldowan-Acheulean transition at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania from stable isotope and tooth wear analyses. Journal of Human Evolution 120:76-91. DOI

Albert, R.M., Bamford, M.K., Stanistreet, I.G., Stollhofen, H., Rivera-Rondon, C.A., Njau, J.K., and Blumenschine, R.J. 2018 River-fed wetland palaeovegetation and palaeoecology at the HWK W site, Bed I, Olduvai Gorge. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 259:223-241. DOI

Torre, I., Albert, R.M., Arroyo, A., Macphail, R., McHenry, L.J., Mora, R., Njau, J.K., Pante, M.C., Rivera-Rondon, C.A., Rodríguez-Cintas, A., Stanistreet, I.G., Stollhofen, H., and Wehr, K. 2017. New excavations at the HWK EE site: archaeology, paleoenvironment and site formation processes during late Oldowan times at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Journal of Human Evolution 120:140-202. DOI

Pante, M.C., Muttart, M.V., Keevil, T.L., Blumenschine, R.J., Njau, J.K., and Merritt, S. 2017. A new high-resolution 3-D quantitative method for identifying bone surface modifications with implications for Early Stone Age archaeological record. Journal of Human Evolution 102:1-11. DOI

Njau, J.K. and Gilbert, W.H. 2016. Standardizing terms for crocodile-induced bite marks on bone surfaces in light of the frequent bone modification equifinality found to result from crocodile feeding behavior, stone tool modification, and trampling. FOROST (Forensic Osteology) 3:1-13. DOI

Johnson, C.C., Njau, J.K., Van Damme, D., Schick, K., and Toth, N. 2016. Paleoecologic significance of freshwater bivalves, Bed III, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Palaios 31:319-326. DOI

McHenry, L.J., Njau, J.K., de la Torre, I., Pante, M.C., In Press. Geochemical "fingerprints" for Olduvai Gorge Bed II tuffs and implications for the Oldowan–Acheulean transition. Quaternary ResearchDOI

Jorayev, G., Wehr, K., Benito-Calvo, A., Njau, J.K., and Torre, I. 2016. Imaging and photogrammetry models of Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania) by unmanned aerial vehicles: a high-resolution digital database for research and conservation of Early Stone Age sites. Journal of Archaeological Science 75:40-56. DOI

Habermann, J., Stanistreet I.G., Stollhofen, H, Albert, R.M., Bamford, M.K., Pante, M., Njau, J.K., Masao, F.T. 2016. In situ ˜2.0 Ma trees discovered as fossil rooted stumps, lowermost Bed I, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Journal of Human Evolution 90:74-87. DOI

Cherin, M., Iurino, D.A., Njau, J.K., and Masao, F.T. 2016. New material of hyaenids (Mammalia, Carnivora) from Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania (Early Pleistocene). Bollettino della Societá Paleontologica Italiana. 55(1):1-9

Hlusko, L.J., Reiner, W.R., and Njau. J.K. 2015. A one-million-year-old hominid distal ulna from Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 158, 36-42. DOI

Njau, J.K. 2014. Olduvai Gorge Archaeological Site. C. Smith (ed.), Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology, DOI

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. Travaux du Centre National de Recherches Préhistoriques, Anthropologiques et Historiques. Nouvelle série 18, Pp.147-187. DOI

Njau, J.K. 2012. Reading Pliocene Bones. Science 336:46-47. DOI

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. DOI

Blumenschine, R.J., Stanistreet, I.G., Njau, J.K., Bamford, M.K., Masao, F.T., Albert, R.M., Stollhofen, H., Andrews, P., Prassak, K.A., McHenry, L.J., Fernandez-Jalvo, Y., Camilli, E.L., and Ebert, J. 2012. Environments and Hominin Activities across FLK Peninsula During Zinjanthropus Times (1.84 Ma), Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Journal of Human Evolution 63:364-383. DOI

Blumenschine, R.J., Masao, F.T., Stollhofen, H., Stanistreet, I.G., Bamford, M.K., Albert, R.M., Njau, J.K., and Prassack, K.A. 2012. Landscape distribution of Oldowan stone artifact assemblages across the fault compartments of the eastern Olduvai Lake Basin during early lowermost Bed II times. Journal of Human Evolution 63:384-394. DOI

Torre, I., McHenry, L.J., Njau, J.K., Pante, M. 2012. The Origins of the Acheulean at Olduvai Gorge. Archaeology International 15:89-98.

Ungar, P.S., Krueger, K.L., Blumenschine, R.J., Njau, J.K., and Scott, R.S. 2012. Dental microwear texture analysis of hominins recovered by the Olduvai Landscape Paleoanthropology Project, 1995-2007. Journal of Human Evolution 63:429-437. DOI

Renne, P. R., Mulcahy, S.R., Cassata, W.S., Morgan, L.E., Kelley, S.P., Hlusko, L.J., and Njau, J.K. 2012. Retention of inherited Ar by alkali feldspar xenocrysts in a magma: Kinetic constraints from Ba zoning profiles. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 93:129–142. DOI

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

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. DOI

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

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

Blumenschine, R.J., Peters, C.R., Capaldo, S.D., Andrews, P., Njau, J.K., and Pobiner, B.L. 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.). Gosport, 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. DOI

Blumenschine, R.J., Peters, C.R., Masao, F.T., Clarke, R.J., Deino, A.L., Hay, R.L., Swisher, C., Ashley, G.M., McHenry, L.J., Sikes, N.E., van der Merwe, N.J., Tactikos, J.C., Cushing, A.E., Deocampo, D.M., Njau, J.K., and Ebert, J.I. 2003. Late Pliocene Homo and Hominid Land Use from Western Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Science 299:1217-1221. DOI

Manuscripts accepted or under review

Farrugia, P. and Njau, J.K. The Paleoecology and Taphonomy of DK Site, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. In African Paleoecology and Human Evolution. (Eds. Rene Bobe and Sally Reynolds), Cambridge University Press.

Njau, J.K., Toth, N., Schick, K., Stanistreet, G. Special Issue: The Olduvai Gorge Coring Project-New insights regarding the palaeoclimatic and palaeoenvironmental context of hominin evolution in northern Tanzania Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology.

Lu, K., Hanafy, S., Stanistreet, I.G., Njau, J.K., Schick, K., Toth, N., Stollhofen, H., Schuster, G. Seismic imaging of the Olduvai Basin. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology.

Merritt, S.R., Pante, M.C., Keevil, T.L., Njau, J.K., Blumenschine, R.J. Don’t cry over spilled ink: missing context prevents replication and creates the Rorschach effect in bone surface modification studies. Journal of Archaeological Science.

Courses taught

  • EAS-E 104  Evolution of the Earth
  • EAS-E 227  Earth Climate and History
  • GEOL-G490 Advanced Seminar, African landscapes paleoecology
  • GEOL-G 561 Paleoecology
  • GEOL-G 690 Advanced Seminar, Climate Change and Human Evolution in Africa
  • GEOL-X377 E377/G349 Paleoanthropology and Geology in Tanzania