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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2001 Feb 13;98(4):1358-63. Epub 2001 Jan 16.

Evidence of termite foraging by Swartkrans early hominids.

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Palaeo-Anthropology Unit for Research and Exploration, Department of Palaeontology, Palaeo-Anthropology Research Group, University of the Witwatersrand, Private Bag 3, Wits, 2050, Johannesburg, South Africa.


Previous studies have suggested that modified bones from the Lower Paleolithic sites of Swartkrans and Sterkfontein in South Africa represent the oldest known bone tools and that they were used by Australopithecus robustus to dig up tubers. Macroscopic and microscopic analysis of the wear patterns on the purported bone tools, pseudo bone tools produced naturally by known taphonomic processes, and experimentally used bone tools confirm the anthropic origin of the modifications. However, our analysis suggests that these tools were used to dig into termite mounds, rather than to dig for tubers. This result indicates that early hominids from southern Africa maintained a behavioral pattern involving a bone tool material culture that may have persisted for a long period and strongly supports the role of insectivory in the early hominid diet.

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