The 89th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2020)


Hominin dietary implications of plant nutritional properties from the southern African Lowveld

EMMA J. DEVEREUX1,2, OLIVER C.C. PAINE2, CHRISTINA RYDER2, CORLI WIGLEY-COETSEE3,4, JACQUELINE CODRON5, DARYL CODRON5,6, MATT SPONHEIMER2 and AMANDA G. HENRY1.

1Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University, The Netherlands, 2Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado Boulder, 3School of Natural Resource Management, Nelson Mandela University, George, South Africa, 4Scientific Services, SANParks Kruger National Park, Skukuza, South Africa, 5Florisbad Quaternary Research Department, National Museum, South Africa, 6Centre for Environmental Management, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa

April 17, 2020 , Platinum Ballroom Add to calendar

Dental microwear and stable carbon isotope analyses have enhanced our understanding of early hominin dietary behavior and called into question many previously held assumptions. For example, the pronounced craniodental robusticity of Paranthropus was originally interpreted as an adaptation to a diet of hard-object foods such as nuts and seeds—an interpretation supported by studies of the southern African species, Paranthropus robustus. However, dental microwear and isotopic studies reveal that its eastern African congener, Paranthropus boisei, focused its diet on tough C4 plant foods, such as grasses and/or sedges.

We are now faced with the possibility that paranthropine morphology allowed for some degree of dietary flexibility and that food choice was dictated as much by the nutritional properties and spatiotemporal availability of wild plant foods as much as by masticatory adaptations. As such, an understanding of how wild plant foods in modern African savannas vary across habitat and season may shed light on the dietary differences we see between early hominin species living in eastern and southern Africa. At present, empirical data on the nutritional properties of wild plant foods growing in modern African savanna habitats are relatively scant.

Here we present measures of crude protein and dietary fiber for plants collected from savanna habitats in SANParks Kruger National Park, South Africa. We find that significant variation exists within habitats and plant categories, and that C4 grasses and sedges, in particular, can be highly variable.

Project funded by the European Research Council, EU Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, grant number STG-677576 (”HARVEST”).  


Slides/Poster (pdf)