African Archaeological Review

, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 21–79 | Cite as

The bovids from Elandsfontein, South Africa, and their implications for the age, palaeoenvironment, and origins of the site

  • Richard G. Klein
  • Kathryn Cruz-Uribe

Abstract

The bovid fossils from Elandsfontein, south-western Cape Province, South Africa, comprise 7257 individually numbered specimens from 18 species. Taxonomic comparisons with Olduvai Gorge and other African sites and the high percentage of extinct forms imply that the bones accumulated in the earlier part of the Middle Quaternary, probably sometime between 700,000 and 400,000 years ago. By extension, this is also the most likely age for the skull cap of archaicHomo sapiens (‘Saldanha Man’) and for the occasional ‘late’ Acheulean stone artifacts that accompany the animal bones. In keeping with geomorphological observations and other aspects of the fauna, the bovids indicate a relatively grassy and moist environment, apparently during an interglaciation that differed significantly from the Holocene. Geomorphological context, the frequent occurrence of partial skeletons, bone damage, and skeletal part representation suggest that carnivore feeding on carcasses scattered across a Mid-Quaternary land surface was probably the main factor shaping the Elandsfontein bone assemblage. Porcupines may also have played a role, but there is little evidence for human activity. The Elandsfontein assemblage thus provides a useful ‘control’ for comparison with bone accumulations where context, associations, and bone damage indicate that people were heavily involved. For example, there are very few young animals in the otherwise attritional profile of ‘giant’ buffalo from Elandsfontein, probably because carnivores often rapidly and completely consumed young carcasses. This suggests that few young carcasses would be available for human scavenging and thus that archaeological attritional profiles in which young individuals are common probably reflect active human hunting, at least of young animals.

Résumé

Les fossiles de bovidés d'Elandsfontein, sud-ouest de la Province du Cap, Afrique du Sud, comportent 7257 spécimens numérotés appartenant à 18 espèces. Les comparaisons taxonomiques avec Olduvai Gorge et d'autres sites africains, ainsi que le haut pourcentage de formes éteintes, indiquent que les os ont dû s'accumuler durant la partie la plus ancienne du Quaternaire moyen, probablement entre 700,000 et 400,000 ans. Par extension, il semble que ce soit aussi l'âge le plus probable de la calotte cranienne d'une forme archaïque d'Homo sapiens (‘l'homme de Saldanha’) ainsi que des quelques outils de l'Acheuléen récent qui accompagnaient les ossements d'animaux. En accord avec les observations géomorphologiques et d'autres aspects de la faune, les bovidés indiquent un environnement relativement humide et herbeux, évidemment durant un interglaciaire qui differe de façon significative de l'Holocène. Le contexte géomorphologique, la présence fréquente de squelettes incomplets, les os endommagés et les parties du squelette représentées suggèrent que des carnivores se nourrissaient des carcasses dispersées sur un terrain du Quaternaire moyen sont le principal facteur de la formation de l'assemblage osseux d'Elandsfontein. Les porc-épics ont peut-être aussi joué un rôle, mais il y a peu de signes de l'activité humaine. L'assemblage d'Elandsfontein est donc un témoin utile pour des comparaisons avec d'autres accumulations de faune, dans lesquelles le contexte, les associations et l'état des os indiquent que les hommes y ont joué un rôle important. Par exemple, très peu d'animaux jeunes sont représentés dans le profil par ailleurs attritionel du buffle géant d'Elandsfontein, probablement parce que les carnivores dévoraient souvent rapidement et entièrement les carcasses jeunes. Ceci indique que très peu de carcasses jeunes étaient disponibles pour les charognards humains et que les profils archéologiques attritionels dans lesquels les animaux jeunes sont fréquents reflètent probablement une chasse humaine active, tout au moins d'animaux jeunes.

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© Cambridge University Press 1991

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  • Richard G. Klein
  • Kathryn Cruz-Uribe

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