The Oldowan and Early Acheulean Mammalian Fauna of Wonderwerk Cave (Northern Cape Province, South Africa)

Abstract

We describe and discuss the large vertebrates recovered from the basal layers (Strata 12 and 11) of Excavation 1 at Wonderwerk Cave, a site located in the Kuruman Hills, Northern Cape Province, South Africa. Stratum 12 is associated with a small core and flake Oldowan assemblage while Stratum 11 contains some Acheulean material. Based on palaeo-magnetism, the time span covered by these Strata is estimated to date to ca.1.8–1.1 million years ago. Taxa identified include late Makapanian forms, such as Procavia transvaalensis, Procavia antiqua, a hipparionine and an unnamed species of large caprine, also found in the Makapan Limeworks deposits, confirming the antiquity of these layers. The bones are highly fragmented due to the action of multiple agencies, both pre- and postdepositional, which prevented diagnosis in many cases to lower levels of taxonomy. In support of other palaeo-environmental proxies from Strata 12 and 11, the large mammal remains reflect a semi-arid ecotone palaeo-environment, consisting of a mix of taxa associated with broken, montane habitat and semi-arid grassland-savanna plains habitat.

Résumé

Nous décrivons et discutons les grands mammifères qui sont retrouvés des niveaux inférieurs (Strates 12 et 11) de l’excavation de Wonderwerk Cave, situé dans les collines de Kuruman, Cap du Nord, Afrique de Sud. Strate 12 est associée avec l’assemblage de nucleus et éclat Oldowan alors que la Strate 11 contient quelques matériaux Acheuléens. Selon le paléomagnétisme, ces strates ont c. 1.8 – 1.1 millions d’années. Les taxa identifiés incluent les formes Makapaniennes tardes, comme par exemple Procovia transvaalensis, P. antiqua, un hipparionin et une espèce sans nom de caprin grand, qui est aussi trouvée dans les dépôts de Limeworks à Makapan, qui confirme l’antiquité des niveaux. Les ossements sont très fragmentés à cause des agents taphonomiques avant et après déposition. Cela a empêché la détermination dans plusieurs cas aux niveaux inférieurs taxonomiques. Les restes des grandes mammifères soutiennent des autres indications paléo--environnementales des Strates 11 et 12, et ils reflétent un paléo--environnement écotone semi-aride. Les taxa sont associés avec un habitat quelque peu montagneux et un habitat de savanna-prairie semi-aride.

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Acknowledgements

We wish to express our special thanks for their assistance in various aspects of this project to Prof. Michael Chazan, co-director of the Wonderwerk project; Mr. Colin Fortune (now retired, Director), Dr. David Morris (Head of Archaeology Department), Dr. Leon Jacobson (now retired, Assistant Director) and the staff of the McGregor Museum; Mr. Rick Nuttall (Director), Dr. Nico Avenant (Head of the Mammalogy Department) and the staff of the National Museum, Bloemfontein; Dr. Berhard Zipfel, Institute for Human Evolution, University of the Witwatersrand, for access to the Makapan Limeworks fossil assemblage; Ms. Stephany Potze and Mr. Lazarus Kgasi, Department of Palaeontology, Ditsong National Museum of Natural History (previously the Transvaal Museum), for access to the Swartkrans fossil assemblages; and Mr. Willem Carel Brink for translating the abstract into French. JSB would like to thank the NRF for financial support (grant no. 82603) and Prof. Andy Herries, La Trobe University, Australia, for fruitful discussions on geochronology. The authors thank two anonymous reviewers for their comments. The authors would like to acknowledge the contribution of the excavator of the Wonderwerk faunal assemblage, Mr. Peter Beaumont.

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Appendices

Appendix 1: Checklist of Veld Types Found in a Field Survey in the Immediate Area Surrounding Wonderwerk Cave

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Appendix 2: Checklist of Mammalian Species Inhabiting the Semi-arid Northern Cape Region in the Area Surrounding Wonderwerk Cave

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Brink, J., Holt, S. & Horwitz, L.K. The Oldowan and Early Acheulean Mammalian Fauna of Wonderwerk Cave (Northern Cape Province, South Africa). Afr Archaeol Rev 33, 223–250 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10437-016-9223-1

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Keywords

  • Early Pleistocene
  • Mammals
  • Oldowan
  • Early Acheulean
  • South Africa