Article

Potential hominin plant foods in northern Tanzania: semi-arid savannas versus savanna chimpanzee sites.

Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz 6, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany.
Journal of Human Evolution (Impact Factor: 3.87). 10/2009; 57(4):365-78. DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2009.06.007
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Savanna chimpanzees are useful as referential models for early hominins, and here potential differences between chimpanzee and early hominin ecology is the focus. Whereas chimpanzees inhabit only a handful of modern African savannas, there is evidence that early hominins occupied relatively more open and arid savannas than those in which chimpanzees live. In order to help expand potential models of early hominin palaeoecology beyond savanna chimpanzee-like scenarios, and to provide a basis for future modeling and testing of actual hominin diets, this study compares the types of plant foods available in modern semi-arid savannas of northern Tanzania to plant foods at savanna chimpanzee sites. The semi-arid savannas are not occupied by modern chimpanzees, but are potentially similar to environments occupied by some early hominins. Compared to savanna chimpanzee habitats, the northern Tanzania semi-arid savanna has a lower density and fewer species of trees that produce fleshy fruits. Additionally, the most abundant potential hominin plant foods are seasonally available Acacia seeds/pods and flowers, grass seeds, and the underground parts of marsh plants, as evidenced by vegetation surveys and by studies of the diets of baboons that forage in similar areas. The information from this study should be useful for framing hypotheses about hominin diets for sites with palaeoenvironmental contexts similar to those of the northern Tanzania semi-arid savannas and for contextualising tests of actual hominin diets (e.g., those based on dental microwear or isotopes).

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