Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: April 2012

22 - Animal palaeocommunity variability and habitat preference of the robust australopiths in South Africa

from Part IV - In search of context: hominin environments, behaviour and lithic cultures

Summary

Abstract

The palaeoenvironments associated with Australopithecus (Paranthropus) robustus have generally been reconstructed as habitat mosaics; typically open, arid grasslands in the vicinity of woodlands or forests with a nearby source of permanent water. Disentangling which aspect(s) of these mosaics might have been preferred by the hominins presents a significant challenge. The aim of this study is to enhance our resolution of animal palaeocommunity structure in the Bloubank river valley of South Africa in order to test which ecological conditions might have been favoured or avoided by A. robustus. Faunal assemblage data were collected from a series of hominin-bearing deposits including Kromdraai, Swartkrans, Sterkfontein and Coopers (locality D). Taphonomic data revealed the presence of a potential bias resulting from depositional matrix, though our analysis demonstrated there was no association between taphonomic conditions and taxonomic composition. A selection of environmentally sensitive taxa was assigned to a series of ecological categories based on isotopic, ecomorphological and taxonomic evidence. Correspondence analysis was used to assess changes in faunal composition between assemblages. Results indicate that the more open, arid-adapted taxa there are in a given assemblage, the fewer hominins there tend to be. Rather than reflecting the habitat preference of A. robustus, these data indicate a pattern of habitat avoidance that is inconsistent with a reconstruction of this hominin as an open, arid specialist. We conclude that the hominins were capable of subsisting in sub-optimal habitats as a result of their capacity to significantly alter their dietary patterns in favour of less preferred food items when conditions dictated.

References

Alemseged, Z. (2003). An integrated approach to taphonomy and faunal change in the Shungura Formation (Ethiopia) and its implications for hominid evolution. Journal of Human Evolution, 44: 451–78.
Avery, D. M. (1995). Southern savannas and Pleistocene hominid adaptations: the micromammalian perspective. In Vrba, E. S., Denton, G. H., Partridge, T. C. and Burckle, L. H. (eds.), Paleoclimate and Evolution, with Emphasis on Human Origins. Yale University Press, New Haven, pp. 459–78.
Avery, D. M., (2001). The Plio-Pleistocene vegetation and climate of Sterkfontein and Swartkrans, South Africa, based on micromammals. Journal of Human Evolution, 41: 113–32.
Behrensmeyer, A. K., (1991). Terrestrial vertebrate accumulations. In Allison, P. A. and Briggs, D. E. G. (eds.), Taphonomy: Releasing the Data Locked in the Fossil Record. New York: Plenum Press, pp. 291–335.
Berger, L. R., de Ruiter, D. J., Steininger, C. et al. (2003). Preliminary results of excavations at the newly investigated locality Coopers D, Gauteng, South Africa. South African Journal of Science, 99: 276–8.
Bobe, R. and Eck, G. G. (2001). Responses of African bovids to Pliocene climatic change. Paleobiology 27 (Suppl. to No. 2). Paleobiology Memoirs, 2: 1–47.
Bobe, R., Behrensmeyer, A. K. and Chapman, R. E. (2002). Faunal change, environmental variability and late Pliocene hominin evolution. Journal of Human Evolution, 42: 475–97.
Brain, C. K. (1980). Some criteria for the recognition of bone-collecting agencies in African caves. In Behrensmeyer, A. K. and Hill, A. P. (eds.), Fossils in the Making. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 107–30.
Brain, C. K. (1981). The Hunters or the Hunted? Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Brain, C. K. (2004). Structure and stratigraphy of the Swartkrans Cave in light of the new excavations. In Brain, C. K. (ed.), Swartkrans: a Cave’s Chronicle of Early Man, 2nd edn. Transvaal Museum Monograph No. 8, Pretoria, pp. 7–22.
Bunn, H. T. (1982). Meat-eating and human evolution: studies on the diet and subsistence patterns of Plio-Pleistocene hominids in East Africa. PhD dissertation, University of California, Berkeley.
Bunn, H. T. (1986). Patterns of skeletal representation and hominid subsistence activities at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania and Koobi Fora, Kenya. Journal of Human Evolution, 15: 673–90.
Buzas, M. A. (1990). Another look at confidence limits for species proportions. Journal of Paleontology, 64, 842–3.
Codron, D., Lee-Thorp, J. A., Sponheimer, M. et al. (2006). Inter- and intrahabitat dietary variability of chacma baboons (Papio ursinus) in South African savannas based on fecal d13C, d15N and %N. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 129: 204–14.
Cooke, H. B. S. (1952). Mammals, ape-men and stone age men in southern Africa. South African Archaeological Bulletin, 26: 59–69.
Cooke, H. B. S. (1963). Pleistocene mammal faunas of Africa, with particular reference to southern Africa. In Howell, F. C. and Bourliére, F. (eds.), African Ecology and Human Evolution. New York: Wenner-Gren Foundation, pp. 65–116.
Cooke, H. B. S. (1976). Suidae from Plio-Pleistocene strata of the Rudolf Basin. In Coppens, Y., Howell, F. C., Isaac, G. L. and Leakey, R. E. F. (eds.), Earliest Man and Environments in the Lake Rudolf Basin. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 251–63.
Curnoe, D., Grun, G., Taylor, L. et al. (2001). Direct ESR dating of a Pliocene hominin from Swartkrans. Journal of Human Evolution, 40: 379–91.
Delson, E. (1984). Cercopithecid biochronology of the African Plio-Pleistocene: correlation among eastern and southern hominid-bearing localities. Courier Forschungs Institut Senckenberg, 69: 199–218.
de Ruiter, D. J. (2003). Revised faunal lists for Members 1–3 of Swartkrans, South Africa. Annals of the Transvaal Museum, 40, 29–41.
de Ruiter, D. J. (2004). Relative abundance and skeletal part representation of macromammals from Swartkrans. In Brain, CK. (ed.), Swartkrans: a Cave’s Chronicle of Early Man, 2nd edn. Pretoria: Transvaal Museum Monograph No. 8, pp. 265–78.
de Ruiter, D. J. and Berger, L. R. (2000). Leopards as taphonomic agents in dolomitic caves: implications for bone accumulations in the hominid-bearing deposits of South Africa. Journal of Archaeological Science, 27: 665–84.
de Ruiter, D. J., Sponheimer, M. and Lee-Thorp, J. A. (2008). Indications of habitat preference or avoidance by Australopithecus robustus in the Bloubank Valley, South Africa. Journal of Human Evolution, 55(6): 1015–30.
Estes, R. D. (1991). The Behavior Guide to African Mammals. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Foley, R. (1983). Modeling hunting strategies and inferring predator behaviour from prey attributes. In Clutton-Brock, J. and Grigson, C. (eds.), Animals and Archaeology: Hunters and Their Prey. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 63–76.
Grayson, D. K. (1984). Quantitative Zooarchaeology: Topics in the Analysis of Archaeological Faunas. Orlando: Academic Press.
Greenacre, M. J. (2007). Correspondence Analysis in Practice. London: Chapman and Hall.
Greenacre, M. J. and Vrba, E. S. (1984). Graphical display and interpretation of antelope census data in African wildlife areas, using correspondence analysis. Ecology, 65, 984–97.
Harris, J. M. and Cerling, T. E. (2002). Dietary adaptations of extant and Neogene African suids. Journal of Zoology (London), 256, 45–54.
Klein, R. G. (1980). Environmental and ecological implications of large mammals from Upper Pleistocene and Holocene sites in southern Africa. Annals of the South African Museum, 81: 223–83.
Kuman, K. and Clarke, R. J. (2000). Stratigraphy, artefact industries and hominid associations for Sterkfontein, Member 5. Journal of Human Evolution, 38: 827–47.
Lee-Thorp, J. A., van der Merwe, N. J. and Brain, C. K. (1994). Diet of Australopithecus robustus at Swartkrans from stable carbon isotopic analysis. Journal of Human Evolution, 27, 361–72.
Ludwig, A. J. and Reynolds, J. F. (1988). Statistical Ecology: a Primer on Methods and Computing. New York: Wiley.
Luyt, J. (2001). Revisiting the palaeoenvironments of the South African hominid-bearing Plio-Pleistocene sites: new isotopic evidence from Sterkfontein. MSc thesis, University of Cape Town, Cape Town.
Newman, R. (2004). The incidence of damage marks on Swartkrans fossil bones from the 1979–1986 excavations. In Brain, C. K. (ed.), Swartkrans: a Cave’s Chronicle of Early Man, 2nd edn. Pretoria: Transvaal Museum Monograph No. 8, pp. 217–28.
Pickering, T. R. (1999). Taphonomic interpretations of the Sterkfontein early hominid site. PhD dissertation, University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Pickering, T. R., Dominguez-Rodrigo, M., Egeland, C. P. et al. (2004). Beyond leopards: tooth marks and the contribution of multiple carnivore taxa to the accumulation of the Swartkrans Member 3 fossil assemblage. Journal of Human Evolution, 46: 595–604.
Pratt, D. J., Greenway, P. J. and Gwynne, M. D. (1966). A classification of East African rangeland with an appendix on terminology. Journal of Applied Ecology, 3: 369–82.
Reed, K. E. (1997). Early hominid evolution and ecological change through the African Plio-Pleistocene. Journal of Human Evolution, 32: 289–322.
Shipman, P. and Harris, J. M. (1988). Habitat preference and paleoecology of Australopithecus boisei in Eastern Africa. In Grine, FE. (ed.), Evolutionary History of the ‘Robust’ Australopithecines. New York: Aldine de Gruyter, pp. 343–81.
Skinner, J. D. and Smithers, R. H. N. (1990). The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion. Pretoria: University of Pretoria Press.
Sponheimer, M. (1999). Isotopic paleoecology of the Makapansgat Limeworks fauna. PhD dissertation, Rutgers University, New Brunswick.
Sponheimer, M. and Lee-Thorp, J. A. (1999). Isotopic evidence for the diet of an early hominid, Australopithecus africanus. Science, 283: 368–70.
Sponheimer, M., Reed, K. E. and Lee-Thorp, J. A. (1999). Combining isotopic and ecomorphological data to refine bovid paleodietary reconstruction: a case study from the Makapansgat Limeworks hominin locality. Journal of Human Evolution, 36: 705–18.
Sponheimer, M., Lee-Thorp, J. A., de Ruiter, D. J. et al. (2003). Dietary preferences of Southern African Bovidae: the stable isotope evidence. Journal of Mammalogy, 84: 471–9.
Sponheimer, M., Lee-Thorp, J. A., de Ruiter, D. J. (2005). Hominins, sedges, and termites: new carbon isotopic data from the Sterkfontein valley and Kruger National Park. Journal of Human Evolution, 48: 301–12.
Sponheimer, M., Passey, B. H., de Ruiter, D. J. et al. (2006a). Isotopic evidence for dietary variability in the early hominin Paranthropus robustus. Science, 314 : 980–2.
Sponheimer, M., Loudon, J. E., Codron, D. et al. (2006b). Do ‘savanna’ chimpanzees consume C4 resources? Journal of Human Evolution, 51: 128–33.
Sponheimer, M., Lee-Thorp, J. A. and de Ruiter, D. J. (2007). Icarus, isotopes and australopithecine diets. In Ungar, P. (ed.), Evolution of Hominin Diet: the Known, the Unknown and the Unknowable, Oxford University Press, pp. 132–49.
Thackeray, J. F., Kirschvink, J. L. and Raub, T. D. (2002). Palaeomagnetic analyses of calcified deposits from the Plio-Pleistocene hominid site of Kromdraai, South Africa. South African Journal of Science, 98: 537–40.
Voorhies, M. R. (1969). Taphonomy and population dynamics of an early Pliocene vertebrate fauna. Knox County, Nebraska. University of Wyoming Contributions to Geology Special Paper 1, 1–69.
Vrba, E. S. (1975). Some evidence of chronology and palaeoecology of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans and Kromdraai from the fossil Bovidae. Nature, 254: 301–4.
Vrba, E. S. (1980). The significance of bovid remains as indicators of environment and predation patterns. In Behrensmeyer, A. K. and Hill, A. P. (eds.), Fossils in the Making. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 247–71.
Vrba, E. S. (1981). The Kromdraai australopithecine site revisited in 1980: recent investigations and results. Annals of the Transvaal Museum, 33: 17–60.
Vrba, E. S. (1985a). Early hominids in southern Africa: updated observations on chronological and ecological background. In Tobias, P.V. (ed.), Hominid Evolution: Past, Present and Future. New York: Alan R. Liss, pp. 195–200.
Vrba, E. S. (1985b). Ecological and adaptive changes associated with early hominid evolution. In Delson, E. (ed.), Ancestors: the Hard Evidence. New York: Alan R. Liss, pp. 63–71.
Vrba, E. S. (1995). The fossil record of African antelopes (Mammalia, Bovidae) in relation to human evolution and paleoclimate. In Vrba, E. S., Denton, G. H., Partridge, T. C. and Burckle, L. H. (eds.), Paleoclimate and Evolution, with Emphasis on Human Origins. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 385–424.
Watson, V. (2004). Composition of the Swartkrans bone accumulations, in terms of skeletal parts and animals represented. In Brain, C. K. (ed.), Swartkrans: a Cave’s Chronicle of Early Man, 2nd edn. Pretoria: Transvaal Museum, pp. 35–73.
White, T. D. and Harris, J. M. (1977). Suid evolution and correlation of African hominid localities. Science, 198: 13–21.