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J Hum Evol. 2007 Feb;52(2):164-86. Epub 2006 Sep 1.

The mammalian fauna associated with an archaic hominin skullcap and later Acheulean artifacts at Elandsfontein, Western Cape Province, South Africa.

Author information

1
Program in Human Biology, Stanford University, Building 80, Inner Quad, Stanford, CA 94305, USA. rklein@stanford.edu

Abstract

The Elandsfontein site, Western Cape Province, South Africa, is well known for an archaic hominin skullcap associated with later Acheulean artifacts. The site has also provided nearly 13,000 mammalian bones that can be identified to skeletal part and taxon. The assemblage derives from 49 species, 15 of which have no historic descendants. Comparisons to radiometrically dated faunas in eastern Africa indicate an age between 1 million and 600 thousand years ago. Unique features of the fauna, including the late occurrence of a dirk-toothed cat and a sivathere, may reflect its geographic origin in a region that was notable historically for its distinctive climate and high degree of biotic endemism. Together, taxonomic composition, geomorphic setting, and pollen extracted from coprolites indicate the proximity of a large marsh or pond, maintained by a higher water table. The small average size of the black-backed jackals implies relatively mild temperatures. The sum of the evidence places bone accumulation during one of the mid-Pleistocene interglacials that were longer and cooler than later ones, including the Holocene. The geomorphic context of the fauna presents no evidence for catastrophe, and most deaths probably resulted from attritional factors that disproportionately killed the young and old. However, only the dental-age profile of long-horned buffalo supports this directly. Field collection methods biased skeletal-part representation, but originally, it probably resembled the pattern in the younger, marsh-edge Acheulean occurrence at Duinefontein 2, 45 km to the south. Excavation there exposed multiple vertebral spreads, which probably mark carcasses from which hominins or large carnivores removed the meatier elements. Bone damage at both sites suggests that, despite abundant artifacts, hominins were much less important than carnivores in the bone accumulation. Together with limited observations from other sites, Elandsfontein and Duinefontein provisionally suggest that Acheulean-age hominins obtained few large mammals, whether by hunting or scavenging.

PMID:
17030056
DOI:
10.1016/j.jhevol.2006.08.006
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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