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  • 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



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.


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