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Taphonomic Study of a Modern Baboon Sleeping Site at Misgrot, South Africa: Implications for Large-Bodied Primate Taphonomy in Karstic Deposits

Abstract

Primate taphonomy in cave deposits is complex, and the taphonomic signatures of different accumulation scenarios present some degree of equifinality, rendering their identification in the fossil record challenging. Here, we describe an assemblage of 30 modern chacma baboons, including nine partially mummified individuals, which died inside a cave chamber at Misgrot, South Africa. The mortality profile is attritional, favouring immature and older individuals. We describe skeletal part representation, body postures for the most complete mummies and preserved articulations. Bone surface modifications suggest limited impact by biotic agents besides small rodents and invertebrates. Several specimens were affected by heat-induced damage, most likely resulting from natural combustion of bat guano, abundant on the cave floor. Misgrot has a similar geology and similar dimensions to some Plio-Pleistocene primate-bearing cave deposits from the UNESCO World Heritage Cradle of Humankind area. Implications of the taphonomic features of the Misgrot baboon remains are discussed in the context of some of these fossil assemblages, including the recently discovered Homo naledi assemblages.

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Data Availability

All primary data are provided in the paper and the accompanying Masters thesis downloadable from https://ujcontent.uj.ac.za/vital/access/manager/Repository/uj:33443?site_name=Research+Output&query=misgrot&sort=ss_dateNormalized+desc%2Csort_ss_title+asc&queryType=vitalDismax

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Acknowledgements

We thank Colin Menter for collecting the material and initiating the project, and Stephanie Baker, Jason Heaton and Jason Hemingway for their input during the early stages of the analysis. Andy Herries provided expedition funding. Bernhard Zipfel is thanked for facilitating access to the modern comparative collection at the Evolutionary Studies Institute. We thank three anonymous reviewers for their helpful suggestions for the improvement of this manuscript.

Funding

Early stages of this research was funded with two African Origins Platform grants awarded by the National Research Foundation of South Africa first to Colin Menter, and then to Marlize Lombard.

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Nel, C., Bradfield, J., Lombard, M. et al. Taphonomic Study of a Modern Baboon Sleeping Site at Misgrot, South Africa: Implications for Large-Bodied Primate Taphonomy in Karstic Deposits. J Paleo Arch 4, 4 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41982-021-00080-x

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Keywords

  • Primate cave use
  • Cradle of humankind
  • Baboon behaviour
  • Early hominin taphonomy