Skeletal allometries in the leopard tortoise (Stigmochelys pardalis): Predicting chelonian body size and mass distributions in archaeozoological assemblages

Daryl Codron, Sharon Holt, Beryl Wilson, Liora Kolska Horwitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Establishing body mass from skeletal remains of an animal is of importance to researchers in the fields of ecology, palaeontology and archaeozoology. Establishing such standards requires that different body parts follow allometric growth curves, and that one can access a sufficiently large sample of individuals of known size and weight for the target species. Here, we have used data collected from modern living and dead leopard tortoises Stigmochelys pardalis (Bell, 1928), to reconstruct body size and mass from measurements taken on individual postcranial bones. The results show high correlations in both mass and size for various dimensions taken on most skeletal elements, enabling reconstruction of these parameters from individual skeletal measurements. To highlight the application of such data to fossil fauna, allometric equations derived from regression analyses of the modern animals were applied to a sample of Later Stone Age (ca. 10,000 BP to present) leopard tortoise remains from Wonderwerk Cave located in the central interior of South Africa. Results for this archaeological sample show significant changes in size and body mass over time. These best correlate with shifts in paleoenvironmental conditions rather than with anthropogenic pressures that have commonly been implicated in size reduction or biased sex ratios in tortoise populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-72
Number of pages14
JournalQuaternary International
StatePublished - 20 Mar 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Ltd and INQUA


We would like to dedicate this paper to our friend and colleague, the paleontologist James Brink, who passed away in September 2019. We offer our sincere thanks to: the National Research Foundation (Grant ID 129172) and the Palaeontological Scientific Trust (PAST) for financial support to DC and SH, respectively; the National Museum, Bloemfontein, who curate the skeletal leopard tortoise collection; Melissa Groenewald and Heidemarie Fölscher who assisted BW in collecting the skeletonised specimens in the Jacobsdal area; Isaac Thapo and Abel Dichakane who helped collect the Strydenburg and Jacobsdal remains and also prepared the specimens used in this study; David Morris (McGregor Museum, Kimberley) for allowing access to the Wonderwerk Cave remains which are curated there; and the two anonymous reviewers for their useful comments on this manuscript.

FundersFunder number
National Research Foundation129172


    • Chelonian biometry
    • Predicting body weight
    • Size change
    • Testudine allometry
    • Wonderwerk cave


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