The owl that never left! Taphonomy of Earlier Stone Age small mammal assemblages from Wonderwerk Cave (South Africa)

María Dolores Marin-Monfort, Sara García-Morato, Peter Andrews, D. Margaret Avery, Michael Chazan, Liora Kolska Horwitz, Yolanda Fernández-Jalvo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations

Abstract

Wonderwerk Cave, in South Africa, is an exceptional site that has yielded a large collection of small mammal fossils in a stratigraphic sequence reaching back ca. 2 million years. Taphonomic studies undertaken to date, show that Tytonidae (likely Tyto alba) was the dominant predator during the Earlier Stone Age. They produced masses of pellets that formed a dense carpet-like surface that covered the cave floor at intervals throughout the sequence. This paper compares the taphonomic signatures of five different Earlier Stone Age small mammal assemblages from Wonderwerk Cave, including assemblages not studied before, as well as a modern pellet assemblage collected from inside the cave. These samples were examined using taphonomic signatures, bone density and spatial distribution which confirm that the main predator in all periods of cave occupation were members of the Family Tytonidae, most likely Barn owls. The Wonderwerk small mammals have enabled us to clarify site formation processes and confirm that there was no transport or mixing of fossils, neither spatially (re-sedimentation) nor chronologically (reworking). This has confirmed the integrity of the stratigraphic sequence in the cave, reinforcing interpretations of palaeoecology, and elucidating intensity of occupation by hominins versus predators, and the behaviour of the predators vis a vis their prey.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-125
Number of pages15
JournalQuaternary International
Volume614
DOIs
StatePublished - 20 Mar 2022
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021

Funding

The current research program builds on the earlier work of the late Peter Beaumont at the site. All field work at Wonderwerk Cave is carried out under permit from the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA). We are grateful to the staff of the McGregor Museum and Head of Archaeology Department, Dr. David Morris, for their support and permission to access the Wonderwerk collections which they curate. Thanks to the excavation team of the 2018 season for their work and care to recover the microfaunal fossil assemblages. The authors are grateful to the comments of anonymous reviewer that have substantially improved the manuscript. Funding for field work at Wonderwerk Cave is provided by a grant from the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council ( SSHRC ) to MC. This research was supported by a Leakey Foundation grant to YFJ. The current research program builds on the earlier work of the late Peter Beaumont at the site. All field work at Wonderwerk Cave is carried out under permit from the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA). We are grateful to the staff of the McGregor Museum and Head of Archaeology Department, Dr. David Morris, for their support and permission to access the Wonderwerk collections which they curate. Thanks to the excavation team of the 2018 season for their work and care to recover the microfaunal fossil assemblages. The authors are grateful to the comments of anonymous reviewer that have substantially improved the manuscript. Funding for field work at Wonderwerk Cave is provided by a grant from the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to MC. This research was supported by a Leakey Foundation grant to YFJ.

FundersFunder number
South African Heritage Resources Agency
Leakey Foundation
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada

    Keywords

    • Barn owl
    • Micromammals
    • Palaeoenvironment
    • Raptor pellets
    • Tyto alba
    • Tytonidae

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