Palaeobiodiversity and Palaeoenvironments

, Volume 97, Issue 2, pp 355–365 | Cite as

Fossil Hyaenidae from Cooper’s Cave, South Africa, and the palaeoenvironmental implications

  • Brian F. KuhnEmail author
  • Lars Werdelin
  • Christine Steininger
Original Paper


We present material of the family Hyaenidae from Cooper’s Cave, an early Pleistocene (ca 1.5 Ma) fossil-bearing site in Gauteng, South Africa. This site is exceptionally rich in Carnivora, including five species of Hyaenidae: Chasma-porthetes nitidula, Crocuta ultra, Parahyaena brunnea, Hyaena hyaena and cf. Proteles sp. This diversity is greater than that of the entire family in the modern fauna and is matched at other sites in the vicinity of Cooper’s Cave. This raises issues about time averaging and the carrying capacity of the palaeoenvironment that require resolution if we are to properly understand the environments in which Paranthropus robustus, present at Cooper’s Cave, and other early hominins evolved. In addition, the presence of several hyaenid species with bone-eating/collecting capabilities raises questions about the identity of the accumulators of fossil bone assemblages that have yet to be fully resolved.


Hyaenidae Cooper’s Cave Palaeoenvironment Cradle of Humankind 



We thank Stephany Potze from the Ditsong National Museum of Natural History, Pretoria, and Bernard Zipfel from University of the Witwatersrand for access to collections in their care. LW thanks the Swedish Research Council for funding research on African carnivores. CS thanks the DST/NRF Centre of Excellence in Palaeoscience. We gratefully acknowledge Jean-Phillipe Brugal and an anonymous reviewer for comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brian F. Kuhn
    • 1
    Email author
  • Lars Werdelin
    • 2
  • Christine Steininger
    • 3
  1. 1.Centre for Anthropological Research (CfAR), House 10, Humanities Research VillageUniversity of JohannesburgAuckland ParkSouth Africa
  2. 2.Department of PalaeozoologySwedish Museum of Natural HistoryStockholmSweden
  3. 3.Evolutionary Studies InstituteUniversity of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa

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