The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)


Paleoenvironmental change in Pliocene eastern Africa as inferred from dental microwear texture analysis of fossil Bovidae

JESSICA R. SCOTT and MACKIE C. O'HARA.

Department of Sociology & Anthropology, University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Thursday All day, Clinch Concourse Add to calendar

Environmental hypotheses of Pliocene hominin evolution state that key ecological adaptations of early hominins are directly linked to shifts in local or regional climate. In order to determine relationships between climate change and human evolution, it is first necessary to reconstruct the habitats in which early hominins lived. This is especially important for Pliocene sites, as increasing bipedality has been linked to a shift from closed woodland forests to more open, arid habitats. Many techniques have been used to refine our understanding of the Pliocene paleoenvironments of eastern Africa; however these have not led to consensus reconstructions. Here we present a new, independent dataset for the inference of diet, and by extension, habitats of individual bovids in the days before death. This study applies dental microwear texture analysis to reconstruct the diet, and therefore ecological contexts, of specimens from Kanapoi, Allia Bay and Laetoli. The microwear signatures of the fossils are interpreted using a comparative database of 25 extant species of African Bovidae and are compared to previously published data on the bovids from the Hadar hominin site in Ethiopia. Results indicate that the fossil bovid assemblages from all four sites include both browsing and grazing taxa, suggesting access to a wide variety of resources. The earlier sites include higher proportions of browsing taxa, suggesting more closed habitats on average. In general, the results presented here indicate that all four sites were mosaic and primarily composed of semi-closed habitats like woodland and bushland, with incursions of open savanna grassland.

This project was funded by the US National Science Foundation.

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