Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences

, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 601–624 | Cite as

Did Homo erectus kill a Pelorovis herd at BK (Olduvai Gorge)? A taphonomic study of BK5

  • Elia Organista
  • Manuel Domínguez-Rodrigo
  • Charles P. Egeland
  • David Uribelarrea
  • Audax Mabulla
  • Enrique Baquedano
Original Paper


New research and excavations at Bell Korongo (BK, Olduvai Gorge, Upper Bed II) have uncovered a dense concentration of megafauna that contributes to our understanding of Homo erectus subsistence strategies around 1.34 Ma. Recent work has yielded clear taphonomic evidence for the exploitation of large-sized animals. The frequency and distribution of cut marks, for example, indicates that hominins enjoyed early access to substantial amounts of meat. This degree of carcass processing, particularly megafauna, suggests that the human group(s) exploiting them were large and had significant nutritional needs. Here, we build upon this work by presenting the first comprehensive taphonomic analysis of the faunal material excavated by the Leakeys at BK between 1952 and 1957 corresponding to 24 Pelorovis oldowayensis. Leakey’s assemblage was biased due to selective collection of the most readily identifiable specimens, among which long bone shafts were not included. The recent assemblage reflects the relevance of using long bone shafts to overcome the equifinality of the alternative scenarios proposed to explain the accumulation of Pelorovis. The analysis of The Olduvai Paleoanthropology and Paleoecology Project’s (TOPPP) recent assemblage sheds light on the reconstruction of hominin strategies of carcass acquisition at BK.


Olduvai George Lower Pleistocene archeology Megafaunal Taphonomy Percussion marks Cut marks Hunted 



We thank COSTECH and the Antiquities Unit (Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism) of Tanzania for the permission to conduct research at Olduvai. We appreciate the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness for funding this research through the HAR2013-45246-C3-1-P project and the Ministry of Culture for funding our research through their Archaeology Program Abroad program. CPE’s study of the BK fauna was supported by the National Science Foundation (BCS-0603746), a McNutt Dissertation Year Fellowship from the College of Arts and Sciences, Indiana University, and a Graduate Fellowship from the College of Arts and Sciences, Indiana University. We are indebted to the very useful comments made by two anonymous reviewers.

Supplementary material

12520_2015_241_Fig15_ESM.gif (152 kb)
Fig. A1

Anatomical distribution of percussion and tooth marks on limb bones from small carcasses at BK5. Bones are redrawn from Pales and Lambert (1971) (GIF 151 kb)

12520_2015_241_MOESM1_ESM.tif (12.5 mb)
High Resolution Image (TIFF 12800 kb)
12520_2015_241_Fig16_ESM.gif (247 kb)
Fig. A2

Anatomical distribution of percussion, cut and tooth marks on limb bones from medium carcasses at BK5. Bones are redrawn from Pales and Lambert (1971) (GIF 247 kb)

12520_2015_241_MOESM2_ESM.tif (14.1 mb)
High Resolution Image (TIFF 14473 kb)
12520_2015_241_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (7.1 mb)
ESM 1 Details of the bone accumulation where an elephant tibia can be seen (PDF 7262 kb)
12520_2015_241_MOESM4_ESM.pdf (14.8 mb)
ESM 2 Surface of BK5 showing fossils and stone tools (PDF 15125 kb)


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elia Organista
    • 1
  • Manuel Domínguez-Rodrigo
    • 1
    • 2
  • Charles P. Egeland
    • 3
  • David Uribelarrea
    • 4
  • Audax Mabulla
    • 5
  • Enrique Baquedano
    • 6
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PrehistoryComplutense UniversityMadridSpain
  2. 2.IDEA (Instituto de Evolución en África)Museo de los OrígenesMadridSpain
  3. 3.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of North Carolina at GreensboroGreensboroUSA
  4. 4.Department of GeodynamicsComplutense UniversityMadridSpain
  5. 5.Archaeology UnitUniversity of Dar es SalaamDar es SalaamTanzania
  6. 6.Museo Arqueológico RegionalAlcalá de HenaresSpain

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