Human teeth from securely stratified Middle Stone Age contexts at Sibudu, South Africa

Abstract

The fossil record of early Homo sapiens in the African Pleistocene remains sparse. In contrast to its prominent position regarding the cultural evolution of our species, southern Africa plays a secondary role in narratives regarding human biological origins. Reasons for this are a limited and fragmentary fossil record from the Middle Stone Age (MSA), further complicated by a number of human remains coming from contexts lacking chronostratigraphic information. Similar to the southern African MSA overall, the rich archeological deposits of Sibudu stand in opposition to its scarce record of hominin fossils. Here, we report on three human teeth (SIB-1, 2, 3) from securely stratified MSA deposits at Sibudu dating between > 77 and 64 ka. The teeth include two lower deciduous molars (Ldm2) with heavy occlusal wear and one fragment. We focus on describing the find and archeological context, followed by an initial assessment of the fossils and their contextualization within the African record. The juvenile teeth derive from rich and well-stratified archeological deposits, associated with a Howiesons Poort industry at ~ 64 ka from PGS3 (SIB-3) and pre-Still Bay occupations in strata Casper and Danny at > 77 ka (SIB-1, 2). The latter constitute the oldest human fossils from Sibudu. Metric and morphological analyses of the Ldm2s (SIB-2, 3) find a combination of archaic traits (e.g., mid-trigonid crest) and crown dimensions that overlap with ranges of both Pleistocene and recent Homo sapiens. These results match with a population of Homo sapiens that lies chronologically between the earliest members of the species and recent humans.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Lyn Wadley and Gavin Whitelaw for their enduring support of our work at Sibudu since 2011. We are also indebted to the many members of the Sibudu research team of the past 8 years, with particular thanks to Britt Starkovich, Chris Miller, Guillaume Porraz, Susan Mentzer, Veerle Rots, Jamie Clark, Mohsen Zeidi, Gregor Bader, and Viola Schmid for their many contributions to this work. Viola Schmid, Mohsen Zeidi, Caroline Röding, and Magnus Haaland are further thanked for help with the figures. Permit for the temporary export of three human teeth for non-destructive analysis was obtained from the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA), permit holder Nicholas Conard, permit ID 2498, date 28 March 2017.

Funding

This study was funded by grants from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (CO 226/28-1; CO 226/34-1; WI 4978/1-1, and EL 923/1-1) and through funds from the Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften in the context of the long-term research project “The Role of Culture in Early Expansions of Humans.” Manuel Will is supported by a Research Fellowship from Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge.

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Will, M., El-Zaatari, S., Harvati, K. et al. Human teeth from securely stratified Middle Stone Age contexts at Sibudu, South Africa. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 11, 3491–3501 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-018-00774-4

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Keywords

  • Hominin dental remains
  • Modern human origins
  • Anatomically modern humans
  • Pleistocene