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

Analysis of bovid remains from Malapa, South Africa and implications for the paleoenvironment of Australopithecus sediba


1Department of Anthropology, Loyola University Chicago, 2Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University, 3Institute for Human Evolution, University of Witwatersrand

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Australopithecus sediba from Malapa, South Africa, holds important implications for understanding the origin of the genus Homo. Accordingly, analysis of the fauna associated with A. sediba provides information on the paleoenvironment inhabited by the hominins, and this study presents an examination of the bovid fauna recovered from Malapa. The number of recovered individuals is presently small, since the majority of specimens are represented by articulated, partial skeletons. The bovids were identified using modern and fossil comparative collections and a standardized morphometric approach involving Elliptical Fourier Function Analysis. Partially complete skeletons allow us to obtain age, sex, and body mass estimates for several of the individuals. The taxonomic composition of bovids at the site suggests a mosaic of grasslands as reflected in C4 grazers such as Megalotragus and Connochaetes, alongside woodlands as seen in C3 browsers such as Tragelaphus strepsiceros and T. scriptus. The presence of a nearby permanent water source is also indicated. This reconstruction corresponds with other lines of evidence in suggesting that Malapa was similar to other hominin-bearing caves in the presence of substantial grasslands, but also reveals a more wooded and better watered component than is typically recorded elsewhere in the area. The bovid remains exhibit breakage patterns indicative of dry fractures, but do not exhibit marks particular to a bone accumulating agent. This taphonomy suggests that the remains were buried and fossilized relatively quickly in a manner similar to the hominins, supporting a common origin for the hominin and non-hominin fauna ca. 1.977 million years ago.

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