Article

Palaeoecology of giraffe tracks in Late Pleistocene aeolianites on the Cape south coast

Authors:
  • Council for Geoscience Western Cape office; Nelson Mandela University
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Abstract

Until now there have been no reliable historical or skeletal fossil records for the giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) south of the Orange River or northern Namaqualand. The recent discovery of fossil giraffe tracks in coastal aeolianites east of Still Bay, South Africa, significantly increases the geographical range for this species, and has implications for Late Pleistocene climate and vegetation in the southern Cape. Giraffe populations have specialised needs, and require a savanna ecosystem. Marine geophysical and geological evidence suggests that the broad, currently submerged floodplains of the Gouritz and Breede Rivers likely supported a productive savanna of Vachellia karroo during Pleistocene glacial conditions, which would have provided a suitable habitat for this species. We show evidence for the hypothesis that the opening of the submerged shelf during glacial periods acted as a pathway for mammals to migrate along the southern coastal plain. Significance: • The identification of fossil giraffe tracks on the Cape south coast, far from the area in which giraffe have previously been known to occur, is unexpected; conclusions about prehistoric conditions and vegetation can be drawn from this discovery.

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... In recent years the Cape south coast ichnology project has focused on the description of tracks and traces on paleosurfaces in Late Pleistocene aeolianite and cemented foreshore deposits, representing the remains of dune, beach, and lagoon environments. The majority of tracks represent large mammals, birds, and reptiles, although the two former groups also include traces of smaller animals, inferred to represent mongoose and small avians (Helm et al., 2018(Helm et al., , 2020a. Golden mole burrows were recently reported , and coprolites (including those of a small carnivore) offer further avenues of study to be reported elsewhere. ...
... This currently remains the only reliably dated sequence on this stretch of coast. Although paleosols at the dated sequence are laterally persistent, permitting stratigraphic correlation to one nearby tracksite (Helm et al., 2018), they do not extend west as far as the sites described here. Nonetheless, the expectation is that these cliffs represent an age range of deposits from MIS 6 to MIS 5b. ...
... This stretch of coastal cliffs forms a zone of concentration of tracksites and, to date, 80 vertebrate tracksites have been identified here. Some of these have led to important paleoenvironmental inferences (Helm et al., 2018(Helm et al., , 2019aLockley et al., 2019Lockley et al., , 2021 and paleoanthropological implications (Helm et al., 2019b(Helm et al., , 2021b. The two sites described here would have been situated at the edge of the Palaeo-Agulhas Plain, most of which is currently submerged. ...
Article
A trackway and burrows of a small rodent-sized bounding mammal (attributed to the Cape gerbil, Gerbilliscus afra ) and a traceway of a large arachnid (spider) from the Pleistocene Waenhuiskrans Formation represent two biological groups not previously reported from this track-rich dune facies, which is widely distributed along the Cape south coast of South Africa. This may be due to biases against the preservation of small tracks. Trackways of hopping or bounding rodent-sized mammals are rare in the fossil record, occurring at only two known Mesozoic sites and three Cenozoic sites. Where these occur in dune facies, they are commonly associated with arachnid and other arthropod surface trails. The arachnid trace fossils commonly include the spider traceway Octopodichnus , known from the Permian to Recent, which is also the temporal range of the eponymous Octopodichnus ichnofacies. The abundance of small-mammal tracks associated with dune ichnofaunas led to the naming of the late Palaeozoic and Mesozoic Chelichnus ichnofacies, which is largely co-extensive with the Octopodichnus ichnofacies at this time. However, the recognition of similar mammal–arthropod dune facies assemblages in the Cenozoic requires adjusting our understanding of their distribution in space and time, and extends the known distribution of dune ichnofacies.
... Records of large mammal (mammals > 2 kg in mass) occurrence and species lists have been collected from fossil sites along the South African coast (Copeland et al., 2016;Klein, 1983;Rector and Reed, 2010;Rector and Verrelli, 2010; and fossil trackways (Helm et al., 2018a of which 41 % of this record comprised large bodied water dependent grazing species over the past 300 ka . These assemblages give us some indication of the large herbivores that humans included in their diet and possibly point toward prey preference in early humans. ...
... The archaeological sites on the South African coast feature prominently in this puzzle, for most of their period of occupation by humans the PAP was exposed . Records of large mammal occurrence on the PAP have been accumulated from a number of archaeological (Klein, 1983;Marean et al., 2014) and palaeontological (Rector and Reed, 2010;Rector and Verrelli, 2010;Williams et al., 2020) sites and fossil tracks (Helm et al., 2018a(Helm et al., , 2018b around the South African coastline. ...
... The occurrence of species we consider in this study for the PAP (Table 2.1) comes from several sources including archaeological sites (Copeland et al., 2016;Henshilwood et al., 2001;Klein, 1983Klein, , 1972bKlein et al., 2007;Opperman, 1978;Rector and Reed, 2010), paleontological sites (Copeland et al., 2016;Klein et al., 1999;Rector and Reed, 2010) and fossilized trackways (Helm et al., 2018b(Helm et al., , 2018a(Helm et al., , 2019. For analysis of metabolic large herbivore biomass (Chapter 5) and herbivore probability of occurrence (Chapter 6), large herbivores were grouped into five distinct ungulate functional groups and included Loxodonta africana (African elephant; Hempson et al. 2015a) rather than analyzed individually. ...
Thesis
Understanding the variations in structure and abundance of animals and what leads to their distribution within the landscape has captured the attention of ecologists for centuries. Importantly, knowledge of current behaviour of large mammals can be used to inform historic population dynamics and is essential to understanding how early humans used large mammals as a foraging resource. Central to this thesis and improving our understanding of large herbivores is the Palaeo-Agulhas Plain (PAP) where large mammalian herbivores formed a key food resource for early humans. The PAP, now submerged off the southern Cape of South Africa, formed a novel ecosystem during lower sea levels. Characterised by large expanses of nutrient rich grasslands and large grazing herbivores, the PAP stands in stark contrast to the nutrient poor fynbos ecosystems that is in the southern Cape today. In this thesis I focus on the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM; ~20 ka) when the PAP was last fully exposed to answer questions relating to the habitat use and range distribution of large herbivores. Importantly, through the Paleoscape Project, modelled climate, soil and vegetation have made these recreations of large mammals possible. Using modelled climate and vegetation this thesis aims to model the large herbivore communities and understand the influence of early humans on the PAP during the LGM for successful integration into the PaleoscapeABM (the PAP agent-based model). To improve our understanding of large mammals on the PAP I identified five large herbivores that became extinct on the PAP since the LGM and modelled their behavioural and physical traits using k-Nearest Neighbour imputation. I predicted the biomass of large herbivores across the PAP using actual biomass of large herbivores from 39 protected areas across South Africa (spanning five functional groups to include the extinct species) across a rainfall gradient and different biomes. The distribution of large herbivores would likely have been driven by similar top-down and bottom-up drivers we see in large herbivore ecology today. Knowing this, I created a predictive model for large mammals by predicting the probability of occurrence of functional groups of large herbivores in relation to environmental drivers and humans. Results showed that all species (except Antidorcas australis) were adapted to the grassy environment of the PAP and these specialisations likely contributed to their extinction along with changing climates and intensified hunting from humans. When predicting herbivore viii biomass, biome was the most important factor influencing the relationship between herbivores and rainfall. In general, large herbivore biomass increased with rainfall across biomes, except for grassland. Finally, I showed the probability of occurrence of large herbivores was influenced by early humans, water availability and a landscape of fear on the PAP. Through this thesis I have successfully provided detailed accounts of the biomass and probability of occurrence of large herbivores on the PAP. Importantly, this information can be seamlessly integrated into the PaleoscapeABM. Finally, I highlight the importance of this knowledge in understanding early humans, the potential shortcomings of this study and resulting areas where research needs to be focused.
... However, these faunal assemblages alone cannot paint a complete picture of past faunal communities, because the primary accumulators of these assemblages (people, carnivores, owls, etc.) have their own predation and transport biases that limit their representativeness of such communities. We have found that ichnofossils (animal trackways, tracks and other traces) provide a valuable addition to these faunal records e for example, while no giraffe skeletal material has been found in Cape south coast Pleistocene assemblages, we have identified the presence of giraffe via their tracks (Helm et al., 2018a). ...
... Roberts et al. (2008) first drew attention to Late Pleistocene trackways occurring in aeolianites on the Cape south coast, describing elephant trackways east of Still Bay. We decided to tap this rich source of information by commencing a concerted ichnofossil study in 2007, and since then have developed a substantial and informative record along a 350-km stretch of the Cape south coast between Arniston in the west and Robberg in the east ( Fig. 1) (Helm et al., 2017(Helm et al., , 2018a2018b, 2018c2019a, 2019b. ...
... A tracksite containing 12 giraffe tracks (adult and probable juvenile) was identified on an in situ surface (Helm et al., 2018a) (Fig. 11). (Among the tracks of extant artiodactyls, giraffe tracks are uniquely large, long, and relatively narrow, with a distinctive shape to the interdigital sulcus.) ...
Article
Body fossil remains usually provide the main palaeontological resource for palaeoecological studies. Ichnology has the capacity to independently complement such data. Fossil tracksites provide a direct record of animals whose tracks have been preserved, and with regard to the Palaeo-Agulhas Plain they have direct relevance in considering palaeoecology. While biases may be present in ichnological data, they are different from the biases inherent in traditional body fossil studies. A ground survey along a 350 km portion of the Cape south coast, between Arniston in the west and Robberg in the east, identified well over a hundred-and-thirty ichnofossil sites in Late Pleistocene coastal aeolianites and lithified foreshore deposits. Some of these tracks were made by extinct species or subspecies. In other cases these tracksites demonstrate spatial range extensions of extant species, when compared with data available from body fossils or historical records. These sites include the largest and best preserved archive of Late Pleistocene hominin tracks thus far described. The tracksites occur on the margin of the Palaeo-Agulhas Plain, which may allow for palaeoenvironmental conclusions to be drawn regarding Late Pleistocene conditions on this extinct landscape. We summarize the most important sites, discuss the limitations and challenges of ichnological studies, and provide perspectives on future work.
... This is because of different reproductive and mortality rates, selective predation and transport (by humans and carnivores), disease, starvation and human hunting culture and practices that ensure that there is no one-to-one correspondence between the living and death and fossil assemblages. To help us overcome these problems, we add to these fossil samples new information from fossil trackways (Helm et al., 2018a(Helm et al., , 2018b(Helm et al., , 2019 which provide, although at the moment limited in sample size, an alternative source of information. This data source does not require skeletal remains to be transported to hyena dens or human camps, a process that biases those collections against very large mammals such as elephants, giraffe, and rhinoceros. ...
... This data source does not require skeletal remains to be transported to hyena dens or human camps, a process that biases those collections against very large mammals such as elephants, giraffe, and rhinoceros. For example, the recent description of giraffe fossil trackways in the mid-south coast signals the presence of a species absent from the fossil record, but requiring the presence of Acacia-woodland and significant amounts of summer rain (Helm et al., 2018a). We recognize that the fossil trackways study is very new, and limited in size, but we expect that in the coming years the range of trackways and their dating will expand dramatically. ...
Article
Recent evidence indicates that the now submerged continental shelf, the Palaeo-Agulhas Plain (PAP), formed a novel ecosystem during periods of low sea level. This landscape provided nutrient-rich forage and habitats to a variety of large mammals. This is in contrast to the modern faunal assemblage found in the present-day Cape Floristic Region, which is dominated by landscapes with nutrient-poor soils and unpalatable plants. We used archaeological and paleontological records for the region to reconstruct past large mammal communities. We build on this approach by using modern knowledge of ecosystems and ecosystem processes to help us understand how systems functioned in the past. We reconstruct species communities for the PAP of the last 300 ka and investigate potential gaps in the record using Hutchinson's weight ratio theory. We then compare the results to modern occurrences of mammals on the Cape South and West Coasts and the Serengeti (a comparable migratory system) using general linear models. Both sea-level and sampling effort influenced species richness in both the South and West coast regions during the last seven marine isotope stages. In the South coast we observed a decrease in species richness during intermediate sea levels which indicates patterns of use by early humans and habitat availability. Large mammals showed an extraordinary resilience to extreme habitat loss and survived as refugee species during high sea levels and low habitat availability. However the combination of habitat loss and modern human weapons were the cause of severe extinction rates during the last 400 years.
... However, the skeletal record may also be biased, as it relies mostly on specimens from caves and rock shelters, representing the remains of hunted prey or animals that lived in such features. 3 As with other fossil-bearing regions, the Cape south coast body fossil record and track record have the potential to complement each other, and to independently provide evidence of the Pleistocene fauna. Tracks, furthermore, have the potential to suggest animal behaviour and relative abundance. ...
... Based on stratigraphic correlation to the dated layers of Roberts et al. 1 , we suggest that Megafauna Rock most likely dates to Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 5e. The geological stratum in which it occurs is the same unit described by Helm et al. 3 in which giraffe tracks were described. MIS 5e extended from ~128 ka to 116 ka 17 with a peak sea-level highstand at 126±7.1 ka 18 , and was associated with a relative sea-level range of 6.6-8 m higher than present on the Cape south coast 19 . ...
Article
Full-text available
East of Still Bay on the Cape south coast of South Africa lies a rugged, remote stretch of sea cliffs that expose Late Pleistocene aeolianites. A zone of dense concentration of fossil tracks occurs within this area. Two large rocks, which we call Roberts Rock and Megafauna Rock, were identified ~400 metres apart. These rocks contained a variety of trackways, individual tracks, burrow traces and invertebrate trace fossils on multiple bedding planes. Both rocks were found ex situ, but their context could be determined. Roberts Rock has subsequently slid into the ocean, and Megafauna Rock lies at the base of a coastal cliff. Probable trackmakers include elephant, long-horned buffalo, giant Cape horse, rhinoceros, medium and small artiodactyls, golden mole, birds and invertebrates. Dating studies at an adjacent site, which is comparable to the stratigraphy described here, indicate that both rocks were most likely deposited in Marine Isotope Stage 5e (~128–116 ka). Analysis and description of these tracksites confirms the potential of ichnology to complement the skeletal fossil record and to enhance the understanding of Pleistocene life in southern Africa. The ephemeral nature of such tracksites makes repeated visits to this coastline desirable, both to monitor the fate of known sites and to search for newly exposed trace fossil surfaces. Significance: • Roberts Rock and Megafauna Rock are two remarkable fossil tracksites on the Cape south coast, which contain tracks of four members of the Late Pleistocene megafauna. They provide a glimpse of Pleistocene dune life and suggest an area teeming with large mammals. • These tracks were made on dune surfaces near an interface between the grassland of the Palaeo-Agulhas Plain and the inland Fynbos–Strandveld–Renosterveld. Faunal assemblages from both vegetation zones might therefore be recorded. • The trace fossil record and body fossil record both have inherent biases, but have the potential to independently provide complementary information on palaeofaunal composition. • The two rocks have provided the first South African records of fossil elephant tracks (as first described by Dave Roberts and colleagues in 2008), the first rhinoceros track and the first extinct giant Cape horse track, and track evidence of the extinct long-horned buffalo. • Roberts Rock has slumped into the ocean, and it provides an example of the fate of many exposed tracksites. Conversely, new sites frequently become exposed. This scenario stresses the need for regular ichnological surveys along this track-rich coastline to monitor existing sites and to search for new sites.
... Specifically, sea-level fluctuations during the Pleistocene had a profound effect on the entire Cape South Coast environment (Dingle and Rogers, 1972;Van Andel, 1989;Fisher et al., 2010;. During full glacials when the continental shelf was completely exposed, the PAP was likely a refuge for hominin and ungulate populations (Roberts et al., 2008;Marean et al., 2014;Cawthra et al., 2015;Helm et al., 2018a;Compton, 2011;Oestmo et al., this volume). Perhaps as a result of that, many important African Middle Stone Age (MSA) sites occur in the area (Deacon, 1995;Marean et al., 2000;Henshilwood et al., 2002;Marean, 2010). ...
... Given the higher winter rainfall in the western PAP (Cowling et al., this volume), the large benches of TMG that outcrop there were likely covered in skeletal podzols, included areas of sluggish drainage e as occurs today on similar topography west of Cape Agulhas -and supported Sandstone Fynbos. The fertile alluvium of the major river valleys supported Savanna (Cowling et al., this volume), a productive environment that would have supported large numbers of game, including giraffe, black rhinoceros, African elephant, hippopotamus, bushbuck and kudu (Helm et al., 2018a; this volume). ...
Article
The South African Cape South Coast is bordered by one of the broadest continental shelves in Africa. The Agulhas Bank, inshore shelf and presently exposed coastal plain make up the Palaeo-Agulhas Plain (PAP), though our area of study extends beyond this limit and as far inland as the first mountain belt. Quaternary sea levels have been significantly lower than at present for ∼90% of the Pleistocene, exposing a terrestrial ecosystem on what is now the submerged shelf. The presently drowned component makes up 94% of the total area of the PAP. Past work has hypothesised a contrast in character of this submerged landscape when compared to the subaerial environment. Here, we assimilate newly-acquired geophysical and geological datasets to produce geological- and soil maps from the Last Glacial Maximum on a scale of 1:750,000, covering an area of ∼55,000 km. Three broad geomorphic zones are defined, including the Western section from Cape Agulhas to Cape Infanta, the Central section from Cape Infanta to Knysna and the Eastern section extending eastward of Knysna. We demonstrate that Mesozoic sedimentary deposits crop out near the surface on this current-swept shelf and soils derived from siltstone and shale bedrock are prominent when the coast is up to 64 km distant from the modern shoreline at its maximum point. Beyond this, weathered limestone dominates the substrate sequences on the Agulhas Bank. We show that the submerged landscape was a unique terrestrial environment and that there is no exact modern-day analogue in the region other than a small (∼70 km²) area located at the edge of the Agulhas Plain near Cape Agulhas, and map major contrasts in the geological, topographic and edaphic nature of the landscape from the onshore to the offshore. The expansion of this plain is coupled with exaggerated floodplains, meandering shallowly incised rivers and wetlands. The submerged shelf is dominated by fertile soils compared to the dissected onshore belt, and extensive calcareous dunefields extending up to 10 km inland from their associated palaeoshorelines covered much of the emergent shelf. Sedimentary bedforms may have obstructed or slowed drainage as suggested by leached palaeosols and carbonate mixing observed in petrographic thin sections and grain mounts. The data show a low-relief “plains” landscape, which contrasts strongly to the topographically complex contemporary coastal foreland.
... In our summaries of the fossil occurrences of the large mammals from the Cape south coast, we rely on (Klein, 1972b(Klein, , 1976(Klein, , 1980(Klein, , 1983(Klein, , 1984 for Klasies River and Nelson Bay Cave, Rector and Reed (2010) for Pinnacle Point, summaries given in Marean et al. (2014), and Henshilwood et al., 2001) for Blombos. Our summaries of the trackway evidence relies on recent research led by Helm (Helm et al., 2018a, Helm et al., 2018b). Note that only Nelson Bay Cave currently provides a sample of LGM fauna. ...
... Cave speleothems sampled the rainfall and vegetation at this ecotone (Bar- Braun et al., 2018Braun et al., , 2020). Fossil trackways are almost all in coastal aeolianites (dunes) exposed near shore and thus sampled the movement of animals near the juncture of the CCL and PAP (Helm et al., 2018a, Helm et al., 2018b). Ancient phytoliths from the paleoarchives reflect plants brought in by occupants of the sites and some natural windblown input (Albert and Marean, 2012;Esteban et al., 2017Esteban et al., , 2020. ...
Article
At the height of its extent, during strong glacials, the Palaeo-Agulhas Plain (PAP, south coast of South Africa) was the size of Ireland, sometimes doubling the size of the extant Cape Floristic Region (CFR). During strong interglacial climates, the PAP was mostly submerged and its ecosystems destroyed or restricted to small slivers. Scientists have largely ignored the PAP, presumably because it is submerged. We argue the PAP contributed to the diversification of the mega-diverse CFR biota and was the most productive foraging habitat available to the early modern humans that inhabited the famous archaeological sites along the current coast. We synthesize the palaeo-archival evidence and modeling results from this special issue, and other results, and propose a general model for the Last Glacial Maximum PAP, and offer suggestions as to conditions during marine isotope stages (MIS) 6 and 4. Unlike the region today, the PAP included abundant nutritious grassland, savanna-like floodplains, numerous wetlands, and a soft and highly dynamic coastline. Grasslands dominated the northern plains and fynbos shrublands the southern plains, both cut by broad meandering rivers with extensive floodplain woodlands and grasslands. The high productivity of the northern sector PAP supported a diverse plains fauna and rich habitats for humans living along its northern fringe, and during MIS 4 they had access to large ungulates on the grasslands, coastal resources, and plant foods from the plain and interior. The Holocene and historical contact period provide our current model of human and ecological conditions in the CFR region, but should be interpreted as a low-resource outlier.
... These tracksite discoveries have generated a recent spate of publications detailing a variety of tracks of mammals and other tetrapods. Most notable have been the reports of hominin tracks (Helm et al., 2018b(Helm et al., , 2019b, bird tracks (Helm et al., 2017), and various large mammal tracks (Roberts et al., 2008;Helm et al., 2018aHelm et al., , 2019a. All these studies stress the vulnerability of track-bearing blocks because of proximity to the ocean and the inevitable damage caused by continuous wave action and cliff collapse. ...
... Although it has been inferred that the Cape south coast track record may be biased toward the tracks of larger, heavier trackmakers, especially mammals (Helm et al., 2018a(Helm et al., , 2018b(Helm et al., , 2018c(Helm et al., , 2019a(Helm et al., , 2019b, some tracks, including those of birds (Helm et al., 2017), small mammals (Helm et al., 2018c), and the hatchling sea turtles reported here, show the potential for registration and preservation of smaller tracks. The only other possible reptile tracks, putatively made by tortoises, and observed in small numbers at three localities (Dana Bay, Gericke's Point, and Goukamma), are morphologically quite distinct from hatchling sea turtle tracks and are as yet undescribed and will be reported elsewhere. ...
Article
Full-text available
More than 130 late Pleistocene trackway sites from the coastal eolianites and beach deposits of the Cape south coast, South Africa, have previously mostly yielded tracks of large mammals and birds. However, two sites east of Still Bay, and a third near Garden Route National Park, yield distinctive trackways of hatchling sea turtles, made during the short posthatching (postemergence) interval when the trackmakers headed for the sea. One assemblage of approximately parallel trackways indicates smaller loggerhead turtle hatchlings, with alternating gaits, and contrasts with a wider trackway indicating a leatherback turtle hatchling. These are the world's first reports of fossil traces that document this brief “run-for the-sea” phenomenon. They help delineate late Pleistocene sea turtle breeding ranges and indicate climatic conditions along the Cape south coast. Ichnotaxonomically defined swim tracks of large adult sea turtles are known from a few Mesozoic sites. Likewise, walking and swim traces of terrestrial freshwater turtles are also known from the Mesozoic and Cenozoic. However, as no ichnotaxonomy exists for these diagnostic hatchling trails, we assign the trackways of the inferred loggerheads to the new ichnotaxon Australochelichnus agulhasii ichnogen. et ichnosp. nov., and the inferred leatherback trackway to Marinerichnus latus ichnogen. et ichnosp. nov.
... Bet-hedging by staggering emergence may also be driven by herbivore intensity. The now-submerged Palaeo-Agulhas Plain (PAP), which borders our study area, used to host a novel ecosystem (for the Cape) with a diversity of herbivores, from shrews to elephants (Helm et al., 2018;Klein, 1974;Matthews, Marean & Cleghorn, 2020;Rector & Reed, 2010;Rector & Verrelli, 2010;Thompson, 2010;Venter et al., 2020) during periods of low sea level (Marean, Cowling & Franklin, 2020). This high-biomass, faunal ecosystem was likely underpinned by the high-fertility soils and nutrient-rich grazing , and abundance of water (Cawthra et al., 2020) on the inner sector of the PAP. ...
Article
Full-text available
Current ecological understanding of plants with underground storage organs (USOs) suggests they have, in general, low rates of recruitment and thus as a resource it should be rapidly exhausted, which likely had implications for hunter-gatherer mobility patterns. We focus on the resilience (defined here as the ability of species to persist after being harvested) of USOs to human foraging. Human foragers harvested all visible USO material from 19 plots spread across six Cape south coast (South Africa) vegetation types for three consecutive years (2015–2017) during the period of peak USO apparency (September–October). We expected the plots to be depleted after the first year of harvesting since the entire storage organ of the USO is removed during foraging, i.e . immediate and substantial declines from the first to the second harvest. However, over 50% of the total weight harvested in 2015 was harvested in 2016 and 2017; only after two consecutive years of harvesting, was there evidence of significantly lower yield ( p = 0.034) than the first (2015) harvest. Novel emergence of new species and new individuals in year two and three buffered the decline of harvested USOs. We use our findings to make predictions on hunter-gatherer mobility patterns in this region compared to the Hadza in East Africa and the Alyawara in North Australia.
... There would have been an abundance of fossil material for these ancestors to potentially appreciate, including numerous trackways containing large footprints (e.g. Ellenberger, 1970Ellenberger, , 1974Raath et al., 1990;Ambrose, 1991;Smith, 1993;De Klerk, 2003;Roberts et al., 2008;Smith et al., 2009;Sciscio et al., 2017;Helm et al., 2018). Such trackways are often exposed for long periods of time, which differentiates them from skeletal fossil material, which is often more transiently exposed (Xing et al., 2011). ...
Article
Full-text available
Compared with other parts of the world, the study of geomythology in southern Africa, and the associated documentation of non-western awareness of palaeontological and geological phenomena, is in an early phase. We focus on examples of rocks and fossils as items of special interest and curiosity, and we search for evidence of an indigenous palaeontology and geology. We review twenty-one sites or cases for which published accounts exist, and we describe a newly identified trilobite manuport site. In combination these sites provide various levels of evidence of palaeontological and geological awareness exhibited by non-western cultures in southern Africa, and how these cultures incorporated this knowledge into their understanding of their world. We anticipate that in time a diverse heritage of such 'natural knowledge' may become evident in southern Africa, aided in part by recognition of the possibility that rock art images may be associated with awareness of body fossils and trace fossils. We suggest ways in which further analysis may bolster this contention.
... Late Pleistocene vertebrate fossil tracksites in coastal aeolianites are not uncommon in South Africa, and have also been recorded elsewhere (Lea 1996;Clemmensen et al. 2001;Fornós et al. 2002). An ongoing multidisciplinary project looking at Pleistocene ichnofossils, along a 275 km stretch of the Cape south coast between Witsand in the west and Robberg in the east, has yielded more than 100 tracksites (Helm et al. 2017(Helm et al. , 2018a. All three southern African hominin tracksites were closely associated with the tracks of other vertebrates. ...
... They studied a well-exposed, 55 m-thick succession of predominantly aeolian deposits located~30 km to the east of BBC. Elephant and giraffe trackways are preserved in the sediments deposited at~140 ka (Helm et al., 2018), but most of the succession accumulated between 126 ± 7 and 91 ± 5 ka, with soil horizons formed near the start and end of this time interval. A major break in sedimentation separates the latter palaeosol and the Holocene aeolian deposits. ...
Article
The site of Blombos Cave (BBC) is well known for archaeological remains that have advanced our understanding of the development of modern human behaviour during the Middle Stone Age (MSA). Occupation of the cave occurred against a backdrop of landscape-scale environmental and sedimentary processes that provide the broader context for finer-scale interpretations of the site-formation history and archaeological patterns detected in the cave deposits. Aeolian and palaeosol sequences are abundant in the vicinity of BBC and these provide a partial view of the past landscapes available to the inhabitants of the cave. An important extension to the palaeo-landscape around BBC currently lies submerged on the Agulhas Bank, as sea levels were lower than at present for the entire period of human occupation of BBC. In this paper, we revisit the optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) chronology for the full sequence of sediment deposition inside BBC, increasing the number of dated samples to a total of 40 and revising the period of MSA occupation to between 97.7 ± 7.6 and 71.0 ± 5.7 ka (uncertainties at 95.4% probability). We describe the geological successions at four main areas around BBC, estimate the time of sediment deposition using OSL, and describe and interpret three seismic profiles on the Agulhas Bank, offshore of BBC. By correlating these onshore and offshore geological sequences with the sedimentary deposits inside BBC, we place the archaeological record within a landscape-scale chrono-stratigraphic framework to examine how environmental changes may have regulated the presence or absence of humans in the cave and surrounding terrain between about 100 and 70 ka.
... Unlike the mountains and most of the CCL, the PAP had extensive areas of fertile to moderately fertile soils supporting vegetation such as floodplain woodland and shale grassland that could support large numbers of herbivorous mammals typical of each habitat (Klein, 1983;Marean et al., 2014;Helm et al., 2018). The grass component would, as is the pattern today, have been dominated by "sweet" species, which retain their nutritional value when dormant. ...
Article
Pleistocene ecosystems provided the stage for modern human emergence. Terrestrial vegetation communities structure resources for human foragers, providing plant food, wood for fuel and tools, and fibre, as well as habitat for animal prey. The Pleistocene distribution of vegetation communities is seldom considered as a key constraint on hunter-gatherers foraging across the landscape. We used modern vegetation patterns along the Cape south coast to develop a rule-based model of the expected vegetation for a given soil type, precipitation regime and fire regime. We then applied this ruleset to present-day environmental conditions to test and validate the model. We also scaled the climate-vegetation ruleset to account for likely effects of low atmospheric [CO2] and lower temperature in the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) on plant water use efficiency. The model was then used to postdict vegetation patterns for the LGM using palaeo-landscape reconstruction of geological substrata and soils, and palaeoclimate simulations. This palaeoscape comprised the extensive Palaeo-Agulhas Plain (PAP), which was exposed at lower sea levels during glacial periods. Our model predicts that the PAP was dominated by limestone fynbos in its southern part, and by shale grassland with cappings of dune fynbos-thicket mosaic in the north. Shale and sandstone fynbos were restricted to the western zone, which experienced a stronger winter rainfall regime during the LGM than at present. The entire PAP was dissected by broad and shallow floodplains supporting a mosaic of woodland and grassland on fertile, alluvial soils. This savanna-like vegetation, as well as shale grassland, are poorly represented in the modern landscape, and would have been capable of supporting the diverse megafauna typical of glacial periods. These Pleistocene periods would have presented a very different resource landscape for early modern human hunter-gatherers than the interglacial landscape such as is found in the Cape coastal lowlands today.
... Although there may be a bias towards the preservation of the deeper tracks of larger, heavier animals, ichnofossils in aeolianites provide direct evidence of the locomotion and frequency of animals moving over dunes and interdune areas. Tracks of extinct species or range extensions of extant species may be identified, which may have palaeoecological implications (Helm et al. 2018). The age of trackbearing aeolianites can be determined using optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating. ...
... Here grasses, including C 4 species, are able to persist under all-year rainfall and largely summer-autumn fire regimes (Novellie and Kraaij, 2010) with particular ecotypes of C 4 species displaying cool season growth (Cowling et al., 1986). Fair abundance of C 3 and C 4 grasses on the PAP (and the existence of savanna-like woodlands in floodplains, Helm et al., 2018) can therefore not be ruled out, although the consistent and pronounced summer-dominated seasonality of LGM fire regimes across the east-west extent of the PAP are unlikely to have provided a driver for mass seasonal east-west migrations of large grazers on the PAP (as proposed by Copeland et al., 2016). ...
Article
Landscape-level fire governs vegetation structure and composition in the contemporary Cape Floristic Region (CFR) and was key to the existence of Middle Stone-Age hunter gatherers on the Palaeo-Agulhas Plain (PAP). However, virtually nothing is known about Pleistocene fire regimes of the CFR. We characterized the fire danger climate of the PAP during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM; 19–26 ka BP) based on palaeo-climate simulations and explored the severity and seasonality of fire danger weather along west-east and coastal-inland gradients across the PAP. We used knowledge of relationships between contemporary fire climate and contemporary CFR fire regimes to propose LGM fire regimes in relation to simulated LGM fire climate. We found that the severity of fire weather during the LGM across the PAP was significantly higher than present; mean fire danger index scores and the incidence of high fire danger days were greater, while the seasonality of fire weather was more pronounced, exhibiting summer-autumn fire regimes across the PAP. Although a more severe fire climate suggests potentially more frequent fires than present, slower fuel accumulation due to colder temperatures, reduced solar radiation and lower atmospheric CO2 may have partly countered this effect. Our proposed LGM fire regimes predict the vegetation of the PAP to have been dominated by fire tolerant, largely Mediterranean-climate formations such as fynbos, renosterveld and grassland, but is unlikely to have provided a driver for mass seasonal east-west migration of large grazers on the PAP.
... marine isotope stage (MIS) 5e; Fisher et al. 2010), large mammals were always present on the PAP and in the surrounding landscape (Venter et al., 2020). Archaeological (Klein, 1983;Marean et al., 2014) and palaeontological records (Rector and Reed, 2010;Rector and Verrelli, 2010;Williams et al., 2020) and fossil trackways (Helm et al., 2018a(Helm et al., , 2018b(Helm et al., , 2020 depict species presence and assemblages (Venter et al., 2020), but provide little information on abundance. These records provide little indication of the species ecology and drivers on this extinct PAP landscape. ...
Article
Throughout much of the Quaternary, lower sea levels in the southern Cape of South Africa exposed a different landscape to what we see today, the Palaeo-Agulhas Plain (PAP). The PAP was dominated by large-bodied and gregarious grazing species contrasting with the small-bodied predominantly solitary species we find in the region today. The distribution of these herbivores would likely have been driven by similar drivers we see in contemporary herbivore ecology. Importantly, the occurrence of early humans and their associated technology would have also influenced the probability of herbivores occurring in an area. Here we create a predictive model for large herbivores using probability of occurrence of functional grouping in relation to environmental drivers and humans. We show how early humans influenced the distribution of large herbivores on the PAP alongside other environmental drivers. In the fynbos biome, probability of occurrence was highest for the medium-sized social mixed feeders’ functional group in the thicket for small non-social browsers, large browsers, and non-ruminants and in grasslands for water-dependent grazers. In our models, human influence affected functional groups to varying degrees but had the strongest effect on medium-sized social mixed feeders.
... Fossil tracks and trackways are common in Middle and Late Pleistocene coastal aeolianites and cemented foreshore deposits along the Cape south coast of South Africa. [1][2][3][4][5][6][7] These Pleistocene rocks have been the focus of a 350-km ground survey by a team led by C.W.H. between 2007 and 2019, from Arniston in the west to Robberg in the east. The resulting corpus of publications has dealt with mammal tracks and avian tracks. ...
Article
The Cape south coast of South Africa contains a wealth of Pleistocene vertebrate trace fossil sites in aeolianites and cemented foreshore deposits. Published studies have described mammal and avian tracksites identified along this coastline. We report here on a number of Pleistocene palaeosurfaces within the Garden Route National Park that exhibit tracks of large reptiles, including probable swim traces. The tracks were probably made by more than one species, and may include a crocodylian. There are no extant reptiles in this coastal region capable of making such tracks and traces, which probably represent an indication of a previously more extensive range for the Nile crocodile and a monitor lizard. These findings demonstrate the potential for ichnology to complement the traditional body fossil record. Two Middle Stone Age stone artifacts were found embedded in one palaeosurface containing multiple reptile trackways. These discoveries have implications for the understanding of Pleistocene palaeoenvironment and palaeoclimate – in an area which is important in the study of modern human origins. Significance: • Large reptile Pleistocene fossil tracksites have recently been discovered on the Cape south coast of South Africa where there are no previous such records, and no reptiles of this size are currently found in the region. • These sites include the first reported probable reptile swim traces in Africa and one tracksite also contained two Middle Stone Age artifacts. • These discoveries have implications for Pleistocene environments and climate on the Cape south coast.
... Our ichnology project has complemented the traditional body fossil record and archaeological record with respect to the faunal census, and has contributed to the understanding of Pleistocene palaeoenvironments and palaeoclimates. For example, in the case of reptiles, the presence of the Nile Crocodile Crocodylus niloticus and Water Monitor Varanus niloticus and hatchling sea-turtles had not been documented until our reports of their tracks (Lockley et al. 2019;Helm et al. 2020), and in the case of mammals, the presence of Giraffe likewise has only been documented through evidence of tracks (Helm et al. 2018c). This begs a question: can avian tracks complement the traditional body fossil record in a similar fashion? ...
Article
Prior to the inception of the Cape south-coast ichnology project, only one avian tracksite had been reported from South Africa. An additonal twenty-nine sites have now been identified. Although there are limitations and challenges inherent in the study of fossil avian tracks, these tracks have the capacity to complement the traditional skeletal fossil record. Six of these tracksites exhibit the tracks of large avian trackmakers. In some of these cases, the tracks are larger than would be anticipated from an understanding of extant birds in the region and from the skeletal fossil record. This raises the possibility of large Pleistocene forms of extant taxa, and of Late Pleistocene avian extinctions. In one case, track preservation was of exceptional quality, and allowed the identification of previously unreported flamingo feeding traces.
... Indeed, our Cape south coast ichnology project has documented more than 250 vertebrate tracksites in our study area (Figure 1), which extends for 350 km from the town of Arniston in the west to the Robberg peninsula in the east. 12 For example, the presence of giraffe 13 , crocodiles 14 , and breeding sea turtles 15 was not suspected from the skeletal record, and has only been established through the presence of their tracks. ...
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Three new Pleistocene hominin tracksites have been identified on the Cape south coast of South Africa, one in the Garden Route National Park and two in the Goukamma Nature Reserve, probably dating to Marine Isotope Stage 5. As a result, southern Africa now boasts six hominin tracksites, which are collectively the oldest sites in the world that are attributed to Homo sapiens. The tracks were registered on dune surfaces, now preserved in aeolianites. Tracks of varying size were present at two sites, indicating the presence of more than one trackmaker, and raising the possibility of family groups. A total of 18 and 32 tracks were recorded at these two sites, respectively. Ammoglyphs were present at one site. Although track quality was not optimal, and large aeolianite surface exposures are rare in the region, these sites prove the capacity of coastal aeolianites to yield such discoveries, and they contribute to what remains a sparse global hominin track record. It is evident that hominin tracks are more common in southern Africa than was previously supposed. SIGNIFICANCE: • Three new Pleistocene hominin trackways have been identified on the Cape south coast, bringing the number of known fossil hominin tracksites in southern Africa to six. • The tracks were all registered on dune surfaces, now preserved as aeolianites. • These are the six oldest tracksites in the world that are attributed to Homo sapiens. • Hominin tracks are more common in southern Africa than was previously supposed.
... More than 250 such sites have been identified in aeolianite and cemented foreshore deposits, indicating a diverse trace fossil record with the potential to complement and greatly enhance the rich traditional body fossil archive in the region (e.g., Klein, 1976Klein, , 1983Klein et al., 2007;Rector and Reed, 2010;Marean et al., 2014;Matthews et al., 2019), which is derived largely from archaeological sites and scavenger dens. Examples of these ichnological findings include reports of hatchling turtle tracks (Lockley et al., 2019), crocodile and water monitor tracks (Helm et al., 2020b), giraffe tracks (Helm et al., 2018a), and hominin tracks (Helm 2018b(Helm , 2019a. These discoveries have significant palaeo-environmental implications, for example, giraffes require a savanna ecosystem, and crocodiles and turtles require warm temperatures and sufficient water in which to breed successfully. ...
Article
More than 250 Pleistocene vertebrate trace fossil sites have been identified on the Cape south coast of South Africa in aeolianites and cemented foreshore deposits. These discoveries, representing the epifaunal tracks of animals that moved over these sand substrates, complement traditional body fossil studies, and contribute to palaeo-environmental reconstruction. Not described in detail until now, but also important faunal components, are the infaunal traces of animals that moved within these sandy substrates. Six golden mole burrow trace sites (Family Chrysochloridae) have been identified on the Cape south coast. In addition, three sites, including one on the Cape southeast coast, have been identified that show evidence of sand-swimming, probably by a golden mole with a means of locomotion similar to that of the extant Eremitalpa genus. Such traces have not been described in detail in the global ichnology record, and merit the erection of a new ichnogenus Natatorichnus , with two ichnospecies, N. subarenosa ichnosp. nov and N. sulcatus ichnosp. nov. Care is required in the identification of such traces, and the orientation of the trace fossil surface needs to be determined, to avoid confusion with hatchling turtle tracks. Substantial regional Pleistocene dune environments are inferred from these sand-swimming traces.
... The Cape south coast of South Africa contains an array of Pleistocene tracks and trace fossils in aeolianites (cemented dunes) and cemented foreshore deposits (e.g., Helm et al., 2020a). The capacity of these dune and beach surfaces to record events that transpired on them has been demonstrated, including the passage of humans (Helm et al., 2018a), other mammals (Helm et al., 2018b;Lockley et al., 2021), birds (Helm et al., 2017(Helm et al., , 2020b, reptiles (Lockley et al., 2019;Helm et al., 2020c), and invertebrates (Helm et al., 2020a). Since 2007, more than 300 such coastal tracksites have been identified within a 350-km stretch of coastline that extends from the town of Arniston in the west to the Robberg Peninsula in the east (Helm et al., 2020a) (Fig. 1). ...
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Aeolianites and cemented foreshore deposits on South Africa's Cape south coast have the capacity to record and preserve events that transpired on them when they were composed of unconsolidated sand. Thirty-five Pleistocene elephant tracksites have been identified along this coastline. This abundance of sites along what was the margin of the vast Palaeo-Agulhas Plain allows for an appreciation of the forms that elephant tracks and traces can take in the context of the global proboscidean track record. They point to a significant regional elephant presence from Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 11 (~400 ka) through MIS 5 (~130–80 ka) to MIS 3 (~35 ka) and also indicate repeated use of certain dune areas. They buttress Holocene and historical evidence that elephants made use of open areas in the region, and that the remaining “Knysna elephants” retreated into dense afrotemperate forest for protection in recent centuries. Analogies can be drawn between Pleistocene elephant tracks and Mesozoic dinosaur tracks, and some of the Cape south coast elephant tracks are among the largest Cenozoic (and hence, Quaternary) tracks ever to be described. A newly identified tracksite in this area may provide the first reported evidence of elephant trunk-drag impressions.
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Cambridge Core - Evolutionary Biology - A Fossil History of Southern African Land Mammals - by D. Margaret Avery
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The Cape south coast of South Africa has attracted significant archaeological research because it hosts the earliest evidence of human cultural and material complexity. Furthermore, the now-submerged Palaeo-Agulhas Plain provided habitat and resources for humans during the emergence of modern behavioural traits. Using a human behavioural ecology approach—optimal foraging theory—we sought to understand how this region’s flora may have contributed to the existence of early humans along the Cape south coast. We conducted monthly plant food foraging excursions over a two-year period in the seven main vegetation types that occur within the study area. Two (rarely three) local inhabitants harvested indigenous edible plant parts in 30-min foraging bouts. A total of sixty-eight participants (of Khoe-San descent), with knowledge on edible indigenous flora, contributed to 451 bouts. This study thus provides the largest published actualistic dataset on plant foraging returns. Without any prior knowledge of spatial resource density, the foragers harvested a total of 90 different edible species and obtained an overall mean (±SD) hourly return of 0.66 ± 0.45 kg/h or 141 ± 221 kcal/h. Apart from renosterveld, where winter returns were higher compared to summer, all other vegetation types showed no seasonal difference in return rates. Plants, therefore, most likely played an important role as fall-back or reliable staple food in the Cape south coast. Edible resources were unevenly distributed spatially, with calorific returns ranging from 0 to 2079 kcal/h, with fewer — but productive — high-density areas or “hotspots”. Sand fynbos (246 ± 307 kcal/h) and dune fynbos-thicket mosaic (214 ± 303 kcal/h) yielded significantly higher returns than other vegetation types (except for riparian). Prior knowledge of such hotspots, both within and amongst vegetation types, would have offered a significant foraging advantage. Finally, we provide the first quantified evidence that forager-extracted plant returns are significantly higher—nearly three times higher—in recently burnt sand and limestone fynbos vegetation. This supports Deacon’s hypothesis that hunter-gatherers could have improved their return rates by purposely burning Cape vegetation (i.e. “fire-stick farming”) to give them access to temporally abundant geophyte "hotspots". We also demonstrate the current challenges when comparing plant return rates across different studies and discuss the benefits of using participants that are not full-time hunter gatherers.
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Large animal tracks, unequivocally attributable to terrestrial mammals, are reported for the first time in sediment from uppermost Bed I (Tuff IF; ∼1.803 million years ago) at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. One track in particular (attributed to the ichnogenus Pecoripeda) retains an exceptional level of detail, demonstrating the excellent trackway-preserving potential of the volcanic ash fall (tuff) layers at this important hominin archaeological locality. Olduvai Gorge is renowned for its abundant Plio-Pleistocene (zoo)archaeological discoveries and fossiliferous deposits vis-à-vis studies of human evolution. Fossil trackways, and trace fossils more widely, provide an important additional tool for characterizing ancient ecosystems, which remain underexplored at Olduvai. Considered together with fossil hominin remains, information derived from coeval fossil animal tracks provides additional insight into our ancestors’ behaviour and their interactions with the surrounding palaeoenvironment. A range of large herbivore tracks indicates the availability of nearby resources (i.e., freshwater, vegetation preferred by grazers/browsers). These newly-discovered tracks are of archaeological and palaeontological significance because they highlight the potential for future discovery of animal or hominin tracks and trackways preserved in tuff at Olduvai and in other archaeological localities.
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Re-evaluation of bontebok following a multidisciplinary approach indicate its native habitat as the now submerged Palaeo-Agulhas Plain off the southern South African coast, and dominated by C 4 grasslands and savannah. Large grazer populations migrated across the plain and around the eastern end of the Cape Folded Belt into the Eastern Cape interior following climate oscillations and geographic-shifts of the winter-/summer-/all-year rainfall isohyets. Presently 77% of all bontebok are found on private farmland with grassland bioregions in the Eastern Cape, Free State and other. Bontebok showed enhanced performance in these grasslands if compared with poor performance on southwestern Cape Lowland Renosterveld (SWC-LRV). Renosterveld (RV) was previously perceived as the bontebok's native habitat of origin. We argue that bontebok became trapped in RV due to sea-level rises and consequent multiple species congestion. Bontebok meta-population management on private farms showed significant species improvement when compared with government conservation actions in SWC-LRV. Geographic habitat constraints appear to have been the greatest factor limiting bontebok integrity. IUCN recognizes a global population size of 1,618 as reported by the Non-Detriment Finding of the Scientific Authority of South Africa, whereas actual population size is more than 7,000. We quantify post-1930s bontebok performance against phylogeographic and palaeoclimate proxies.
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Laetoli is a well-known palaeontological locality in northern Tanzania whose outstanding record includes the earliest hominin footprints in the world (3.66 million years old), discovered in 1978 at Site G and attributed to Australopithecus afarensis. Here, we report hominin tracks unearthed in the new Site S at Laetoli and referred to two bipedal individuals (S1 and S2) moving on the same palaeosurface and in the same direction as the three hominins documented at Site G. The stature estimates for S1 greatly exceed those previously reconstructed for Au. afarensis from both skeletal material and footprint data. In combination with a comparative reappraisal of the Site G footprints, the evidence collected here embodies very important additions to the Pliocene record of hominin behaviour and morphology. Our results are consistent with considerable body size variation and, probably, degree of sexual dimorphism within a single species of bipedal hominins as early as 3.66 million years ago.
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The extant giraffes are an iconic part of the African biota, their large size and elongate legs and neck providing an unmistakable silhouette against the African landscape. Their close relatives, the okapis, were among the latest of the large terrestrial mammals to be documented scientifically and are similarly iconic in terms of their rarity and cryptic nature. Giraffes are characterized by skin-covered ossicones attached to the frontals; only male okapis have ossicones, from which the skin may be worn off the distal portions in mature specimens. The nature of their relationship to each other and to the somewhat bewildering variety of African fossil pecorans is still a matter of debate. The origins of the Giraffoidea remain uncertain although Janis and Scott (1987) suggested they could have originated from the Gelocidae before the early Miocene. The Giraffoidea have been variously allied with the Bovoidea and/or Cervoidea, but Hernández Fernández and Vrba (2005) construe them as a sister group of a clade containing both the Bovidae and Cervidae and suggest they are conceivably most closely related to the antilocaprids. This chapter describes the systematic paleontology of Giraffoidea.
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We present the approach and results of an intuitive, expert-based mapping exercise to identify subtropical thicket (including Acocks' (1953) Valley Bushveld, Noorsveld and Spekboomveld) vegetation types as features for conservation planning. The study area comprised 105 500km 2 in southern and south-eastern South Africa, the planning domain for the Subtropical Thicket Ecosystem Planning (STEP) Project. We developed a four-tier typological hierarchy based on geography, floristics, structure and grain. This yielded 112 unique thicket vegetation types, 78 of which comprised thicket clumps in a matrix of non-thicket vegetation (mosaics). By identifying mosaics, we expanded the subtropical thicket concept and increased its extent in the study area by between 1.8 and 2.8 times that of earlier assessments. We also compiled a list of plant species that yielded a rich flora of 1 558 species, 20% of which are endemic to our expanded thicket biome. Consistent with previous studies, endemics were strongly associated with succulent members of the Aizoaceae, Asphodelaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Apocynaceae and Crassulaceae. We discuss our results in terms of Acocks' (1953) typology as well as those of more recent treatments, and comment on the evolution of subtropical thicket vegetation. Although some confusion regarding the delimitation and characterisation of thicket was resolved by this study, much more research is required to develop and test hypotheses on the determinants of thicket boundaries and the origins and evolution of thicket species.
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Coastal geomorphic systems have been studied widely to understand the responses of shorelines to fluctuating sea levels. Submerged shorelines, remnant of Pleistocene sea-level lowstands, are well preserved on the South African continental shelf. This paper describes work undertaken to better understand offshore coastal environments now submerged by high sea levels off the South African south coast near Mossel Bay, offshore of the Pinnacle Point archaeological locality. Multibeam bathymetry and side-scan sonar reveal evidence of past sea-level fluctuations and submerged coastal landscape features on the seabed. These results form the basis of an ongoing palaeoenvironmental reconstruction for this part of the shelf. We describe seven significant geomorphic features that show a submerged environment that differs significantly to the immediate adjacent coastal plain. However, these features are comparable to other stretches of the present South African shoreline that serve as modern analogues. We propose that features on the continental shelf primarily reflect geological substrate, gradients and Pleistocene sea-level fluctuations. Early modern humans were likely to have had a different set of resources to use in this Pleistocene landscape compared to those available along the presently exposed coast.
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Dune systems along the South African coast are sensitive barometers of fluctuations in palaeoenvironments, as archived in their orientation, geometry, internal architecture, composition, granulometry, diagenesis, palaeontology and archaeological content. Presently, the pronounced climatic/oceanographic gradients around the southern African coastline, including the west coast Mediterranean climate type, with cold upwelling to progressively warmer in terms of climate and sea temperatures eastwards, are mirrored by variations in these parameters. Here, we review and contribute new information concerning their fluctuations from the Miocene to the present to track changes in the bio-, hydro- and geospheres through time. West coast dunes take the form of dune plumes, which have an orientation since the Miocene that mirrors the southerlies of the South Atlantic Anticyclone (SAA), muted during the warm Pliocene, as reflected by intense bioturbation. Shoreline-parallel, vertically aggraded dune cordons dominate along the southern and eastern coasts, formed by (winter) polar westerlies since the Miocene. The contrasting dunefield morphologies relate to seasonality of wind strength and precipitation. Subtropical east coast dunes are profoundly weathered – on the shelf, glacial-period dunes indicate different atmospheric circulations. The long-term stability of the warm Agulhas Current contrasts with variability in the Benguela. The aeolianites host a rich human and faunal archive, including human ichnofossils. Supplementary material: Tables S1 and S2, which provide details of the data and data sources for Figure 9 in the text, are available at http://www.geolsoc.org.uk/SUP18711.
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Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) are thought to be introduced aliens in KwaZulu-Natal, an area in which they flourish today. This perception was based on the lack of reference to sightings of giraffe in early colonial literature and the lack of giraffe remains in archaeological sites within KwaZulu-Natal. We have reviewed the literature and found no reliable reference to giraffe in early colonial writings and no reports of rock art featuring giraffe in the area. However, there are recent reports of the recovery of giraffe bones from the Middle Stone Age deposits at Sibudu Shelter, the Holocene hunter-gatherer deposits at Maqonqo Shelter and from the Early Iron Age agriculturist site of KwaGandaganda, all within KwaZulu-Natal. We argue that giraffe were present 1000 BP (date of most recent excavation evidencing giraffe remains), but had died out or been extirpated by c. 220 BP (date of written accounts). The demise of giraffe between 1000 and 220 BP may be linked to disease, climate change or anthropogenic causes. The finding of giraffe remains within KwaZulu-Natal raises the possibility that they should be considered as native to the area.
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Changing climates, environment, and sea levels during the Middle and Late Pleistocene must have had significant impacts on early modern humans and their behavior. However, many important archaeological sites occur along the current coastline of South Africa where the gradual slope of the offshore Agulhas Bank meant that small changes to sea level height potentially caused significant shifts in coastline position. The geographic context of these currently coastal sites would have been transformed by sea level shifts from coastal to near-coastal to fully terrestrial. To understand human adaptations as reflected in the archaeological deposits of these now-coastal sites we need to accurately model coastline position through time. Here, we introduce a Paleoscape model as a conceptual tool to ground the records for human behavioral evolution within a dynamic model of paleoenvironmental changes. Using integrated bathymetric datasets, GIS, and a relative sea level curve we estimate the position of the coastline at 1.5 ka increments over the last ∼420,000 years. We compare these model predictions to strontium isotope ratios from speleothems as an independent test and then compare the coastline predictions to evidence for shellfish exploitation through time. Both tests suggest our model is relatively robust. We then widen our paleoscape model to most of the Cape region and compare the predictions of this broadened model to evidence from Blombos cave.
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Barrier systems contain lengthy, but complex, records of long-term environmental fluctuations. The Wilderness embayment, South Africa, contains a system of shore-parallel barriers reaching up to 200 m above modern sea level. This study reports the results of chronological, topographical (both on- and off-shore), sedimentological and micromorphological analyses within the Wilderness embayment. Sixty-one new luminescence ages from sixteen sites in unconsolidated dunes and three separate barriers are presented which, when combined with previously published luminescence ages from the area, provide a high-resolution chronological framework for the emplacement and evolution of the barrier system. The preserved barriers have been constructed within at least the last two glacial–interglacial cycles with notable phases between 241–221 ka, 159–143 ka, 130–120 ka, 92–87 ka and post 6 ka. Multiple phases of barrier construction occurred during sea-level highstands, with sediment deposition on each individual barrier occurring over at least two interglacials. Holocene evolution of the system sheds light on earlier events, with dune preservation occurring only during early regression from the Mid-Holocene highstand. Tectonic stability at Wilderness allowed glacio-eustatically formed shorelines to occupy similar positions on multiple occasions. This, in conjunction with a relatively humid climate and a well-vegetated landscape, enabled deflated sediment from beaches to form dunes which stacked upon each other to form an extensive and complex vertical accretionary sequence. Repeated erosion and recycling of pre-existing barriers as well as barrier construction on what is currently the off-shore platform during still-stands in sea-level regressional cycles, when sea levels dropped below ca −50 m from the present day, has added to the complexity of the preserved terrestrial barrier record. The Wilderness barrier system contrasts with barriers developed elsewhere in the world where higher rates of crustal uplift have allowed preservation of a more complete and more widely spaced palaeorecord. This research also shows the utility of integrating off-shore topography as revealed by bathymetry, with terrestrial topographic data for the better understanding of the evolution of palaeo-coastlines and the preserved dune record found on present-day coastal plains. Local variation in the topography of the continental shelf at Wilderness has generated spatial and temporal complexity within the sedimentary records of individual barriers as well as having a significant influence on preservation.
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The Later- and Middle Stone Age levels at Blombos Cave (BBC) were excavated over four field seasons between 1992 and 1999. Here we report on the results from the Middle Stone Age (MSA) levels. The taphonomy and depositional history of the MSA levels is complex due to faulting, folding and spalling. Careful observations during excavation have assisted in understanding some of these taphonomic and site formation processes; microstratigraphic analysis, currently in progress, will add to this information. The uppermost MSA level, the Still Bay phase, contains high densities of bifacial points, the fossile directeur of the Still Bay Industry. Placing the Still Bay within the MSA culture sequence has been problematic in the past because Still Bay assemblages are rarely found in situ and previous excavations were inadequately recorded. However with the regional data discussed in the text, the Still Bay can be securely placed before the Howiesons Poort dated at 65-70 ka.
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Nelson Bay Cave is located on the Robberg Peninsula (34°06′ S, 23°24′ E) at Plettenberg Bay, Cape Province, South Africa. Excavation of the Late Quaternary fill of the cave has provided a rich assemblage of mammalian remains dated between ca. 18,000 and 5000 radiocarbon years B.P. Identification and analysis of these remains has shown that important changes in the composition of the mammalian fauna took place first about 12,000 B.P. and again about 9000 B.P. The earlier change is especially clear-cut and is interpreted to reflect the disappearance of grassland from the area as well as the influence of rising sea level. Both faunal changes were accompanied by changes in associated artifactual materials and it is suggested that faunal and cultural changes were causally linked. The mammalian species dated between 18,000 and 12,000 B.P. include the latest recorded Sub-Saharan occurrences of some extinct taxa and indicate that terminal Pleistocene/Early Holocene megafaunal extinctions may have been more important in Southern Africa than has hitherto been thought.
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The Elandsfontein site, Western Cape Province, South Africa, is well known for an archaic hominin skullcap associated with later Acheulean artifacts. The site has also provided nearly 13,000 mammalian bones that can be identified to skeletal part and taxon. The assemblage derives from 49 species, 15 of which have no historic descendants. Comparisons to radiometrically dated faunas in eastern Africa indicate an age between 1 million and 600 thousand years ago. Unique features of the fauna, including the late occurrence of a dirk-toothed cat and a sivathere, may reflect its geographic origin in a region that was notable historically for its distinctive climate and high degree of biotic endemism. Together, taxonomic composition, geomorphic setting, and pollen extracted from coprolites indicate the proximity of a large marsh or pond, maintained by a higher water table. The small average size of the black-backed jackals implies relatively mild temperatures. The sum of the evidence places bone accumulation during one of the mid-Pleistocene interglacials that were longer and cooler than later ones, including the Holocene.
Article
Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 11 was possibly the longest (~423,000-362,000 yr ago) and warmest interglacial of the entire Quaternary Period. This resulted from a special arrangement of Earth's orbital parameters-similar to the present interglacial (MIS 1)-suggesting that MIS 11 provides an analogue for future natural climate forcing and sea levels. Although precise documentation of MIS 11 sea level history is, therefore, crucial - especially considering additional impetus from anthropogenic warming - the maximum MIS 11 sea level remains highly contentious. Estimates from onshore indicators have ranged from below present sea level to about +20. m, resulting from uncertainties in reliability of sea level indicators, estimates of their subsequent displacement by vertical crustal motion and in dating. We used a clear and unambiguous sea level indicator (interface between subtidal and intertidal deposits) in well exposed, regressive raised shoreline deposits along South Africa's southern coast. The coast is stable in terms of tectonic setting and falls within a zone of low predicted glacio-isostatic adjustment (GIA) and low sensitivity for plausible model parameters. The sea level indicators were directly dated using thermally transferred optically stimulated luminescence (TT-OSL), which gave a mean age of ~390. ka, corresponding with MIS 11. We determined a precise maximum elevation of +14. m for the MIS 11 sea level indicator, which corrected for minor crustal uplift and GIA yielded a eustatic sea level of +13. m ±2. m. The complete MIS 11 transgressive/regressive shoreline succession is preserved and the wave-cut platform extends 950. m inland from the present shoreline, indicating a prolonged highstand. We have also documented sea level fluctuations during MIS 11, including an earlier (lower) highstand close to present sea level, which may explain the lower elevation range of some previous estimates. At one locality, MIS 11 deposits form a sea cliff against which MIS 5e sediments (at an elevation of +6.2. m) abut. The +13. m MIS 11 sea level tallies with total melting of the Greenland and West Antarctica ice sheets, regarded as most susceptible to melting. Our data predict notably higher sea levels in the future, regardless of anthropogenic influence on climate.
Article
In The Hadza, Frank Marlowe provides a quantitative ethnography of one of the last remaining societies of hunter-gatherers in the world. The Hadza, who inhabit an area of East Africa near the Serengeti and Olduvai Gorge, have long drawn the attention of anthropologists and archaeologists for maintaining a foraging lifestyle in a region that is key to understanding human origins. Marlowe ably applies his years of research with the Hadza to cover the traditional topics in ethnography-subsistence, material culture, religion, and social structure. But the book's unique contribution is to introduce readers to the more contemporary field of behavioral ecology, which attempts to understand human behavior from an evolutionary perspective. To that end, The Hadza also articulates the necessary background for readers whose exposure to human evolutionary theory is minimal.
Article
AimPalaeoecological data are crucial to understanding the historical extinction of the blue antelope (Hippotragus leucophaeus). This study examined late Quaternary fossil evidence bearing on the blue antelope's calving and migratory habits. LocationCape Floristic Region (CFR), South Africa. Methods Blue antelope mortality patterns were reconstructed from dental remains from fossil assemblages spanning the last c. 200,000 years and located in the CFR's winter and year‐round rainfall zones. Two demographic measures were examined: (1) the frequencies of juveniles relative to adults; and (2) the frequencies of neonates relative to older juveniles. Geographical trends were examined across a longitudinal gradient of decreasing winter rainfall and increasing summer rainfall. ResultsThere was a significant longitudinal trend in the blue antelope mortality data, with juveniles and neonates declining in frequency from west to east. This suggests that calving occurred primarily in the winter rainfall zone, probably during the winter months when seasonal rains promoted the growth of C3 grasses. The summer drought and lack of adequate forage forced blue antelope to migrate east, in time with summer rainfall and the increased availability of C4 grasses. The migration route probably depended in part on reduced sea levels during glacial phases of the Pleistocene. Main conclusionsBlue antelope were probably migratory. Rising sea levels at the onset of the Holocene disrupted their migration routes, limited access to west‐coast calving grounds, and fragmented populations. Such disruption would have devastated the blue antelope population and contributed to its vulnerability to extinction. Blue antelope survived previous marine transgressions, however, suggesting that other factors played a role in its demise. Agricultural expansion early in the colonial era may have further disrupted migration routes and played an important role in its extinction.
Article
The origin, phylogeny, and evolution of modem giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis) is obscure. We review here the literature and conclude that the proximate ancestors of modern giraffes probably evolved in southern central Europe about 8 million years ago (Mya). These ancestors appear to have arisen from the gelocid ancestral assemblage of 20–25 Mya via the family Palaeomerycidae. From the palaeomerycids arose the Antilocaprinae (Pronghorns) via the subfamily Dromomerycinae, and two subfamilies of giraffids, the Climacoceratidae and Canthumerycidae. The terminal genus of the Climacoceratid line was the now extinct massive giraffid Sivatherium sp. The Canthumerycids gave rise to the okapi and giraffes via the intermediate forms of Giraffokeryx, Palaeotragus sp. (of which the okapi is the extant form), Samotherium sp. and Bohlinia sp. All of which are extinct. Stimulated by climate change, progeny of Bohlinia entered China and north India, evolved into typical Giraffa species and became extinct there about 4 Mya. Similarly, following their preferred habitat, African Giraffa entered Africa via Ethiopia about 7 Mya. Here, seemingly unaffected by the climate changes occurring to the east and causing extinction of its Asian counterparts, Giraffa radiated into several sequential and coeval species culminating with the evolution of G. camelopardalis in East Africa from where it dispersed to its modern range. Fossils of G. camelopardalis appear about 1 Mya in East Africa.The underlying stimulus for Giraffa evolution seems to have been the vegetation change that began about 8 Mya, from the prevalent forest (C3) biome to a savannah/woodland/shrub (C4) biome. Giraffa's success as a genus is attributed to its great height and unique coat markings. Its height is a consequence of elongation of all seven cervical vertebrae and of the lower more than the upper limb bones. Advantages conferred by its height include protection from predation, increased vigilance, and in males sexual dominance and access to nutrients. Its coat colourings are highly hereditable and provide protection from predation by camouflage, especially in the young. As giraffe are unable to sweat and pant, the patches may also act as thermal windows and may have an important thermoregulatory function.
Article
Two Late Pleistocene hominid footprint sites are known in South Africa, one on the west coast (Langebaan) and the other on the southeast coast (Nahoon). Both trackways occur in calcareous eolianites and are dated to the Last Interglacial (∼120 ka). The chief objective is to infer anatomical features of these early anatomically modern hominid footprint makers, about which little is known. At Nahoon, trackways of at least five species of vertebrates, including three hominid footprints, are preserved as casts. One footprint preserves excellent detail, appearing in all respects to be modern, but possibly with a deformity of the small toe. The impressions are shallow and suggest slight build. The stature of the footprint maker, as estimated from foot length (19.2 cm), is ∼127 cm, considerably less than modern adult Khoi-San and was probably made by a juvenile. The step length is short relative to foot length, a consequence of walking uphill on a yielding substrate. The Langebaan trackway (preserved as natural impressions) comprises two intact prints and remnants of a third. Pronounced push up mounds flank the prints and preservation of toe impressions is poor. The foot length is 22.8 cm, indicating a stature of ∼1.57 m. This falls within the range of modern adult Khoi-San, lending some support to the notion that Middle Stone Age people were of small stature. The depth of the prints and clumsy progression are suggestive of heavy build.
Article
The paper is a re-analysis of carcass transport data reported by two research groups (Bunn, Bartram & Kroll; O’Connell, Hawkes & Blurton Jones) monitoring the foraging activities of Hadza hunter–gatherers (northern Tanzania). The two teams offer different conclusions about the patterning, explanation and archaeological implications of Hadza field processing and transport decisions, yet the overall similarity between their data sets suggests that the conflicting conclusions have more to do with interpretive differences than with inherently different samples. At issue is whether or not the Hadza provide support for a concept known as the ‘‘schlepp effect’’, which has been used to identify transported bone assemblages in the early archaeological record on the basis of high limb bone representation relative to axial parts. The re-analysis mostly contradicts the ‘‘high limb schlepp effect’’ (my term), and three main aspects of Hadza carcass transport are noteworthy. First, animals up to zebra size (i.e.c. 750 lb) are frequently transported completely and, even when some bones are discarded, the edible tissues associated with them are almost always consumed and/or transported. This is possible because the Hadza are able to spend relatively unlimited amounts of time at kill/butchery locations (i.e. predation risk is insignificant), which allows for extensive processing, food consumption and the summoning of many carcass carriers. Second, except for ribs, post-cranial axials (not limbs) are the most frequently transported elements. Finally, ribs and limb bones are often discarded at kill/butchery locations and their associated edible tissues are either eaten on the spot or transported to camps. In short, the Hadza try to transport as much food as possible, while reducing transport weight by discarding easily processed elements such as ribs and long bones.
Article
Hominid footprints are particularly appealing and evocative of the living activity of our ancestors. The most famous and oldest (Late Pliocene, ca. 3.7 Ma) hominid footprints, from Laetoli in East Africa, have been attributed, with some uncertainly, to genus Homo or Australopithecus. The African track record also yields Early Pleistocene (∼1.5 Ma) tracks attributable to Homo erectus. The only well-documented Middle Pleistocene tracks (age ∼325,000-385,000 yrs) are reported from Italy and presumably represent a pre-Homo sapiens species.The oldest Late Pleistocene tracks (∼117,000 yrs), from southern Africa, may represent modern humans. However, the majority of Late Pleistocene sites are European, associated with caves in Romania, Greece, France and elsewhere, where hominid track preservation is often of high quality. Dates range from ∼10,000 to ∼62,000 BP Cavesite mammal tracks are almost exclusively those of carnivores, thus representing a distinctive underground ecology. Late Pleistocene open air sites are reported from widely scattered locations in Africa, Turkey, Tibet, Korea, Australia and even in the New World (Chile, Argentina and Mexico).Early to Middle Holocene sites (> ∼4,000 yrs BP) mainly occupy riparian, lacustrine, estuarine and littoral settings where the ichnofaunas are dominated by ungulates and shorebirds. Among these sites from England, Nicaragua, Argentina and Mexico and the United States, a few have been described in some detail. Younger Holocene sites are frequently associated with specified cultural periods (e.g., Neolithic, Bronze Age) or specific indigenous cultures, where supplemental archeological evidence may be directly associated with the footprint evidence.At most surficial and some subterranean hominid tracksites, mammal and/or bird tracks are quite common and of use in creating a paleoecological picture of local faunas. The global distribution of human and hominid tracks is consistent with body fossil evidence and the record of archeological, cultural artifacts. However, in a few cases tracks suggest colonization of certain regions (Tibetan Plateau and the New World) earlier than previously thought. Tracks also give clues to behavior, age and health status of the trackmakers.
Article
Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 11 was possibly the longest ( 423,000-362,000 yr ago) and warmest interglacial of the entire Quaterna ry Period. This resulted from a special arrangement of Earth's orbital parameters-similar to the present interglacial (MIS 1)-suggesting that MIS 11 provides an analogue for future natural climate forcing and sea levels. Although precise documentation of MIS 11 sea level history is, therefore, crucial - especially considering additional impetus from anthropogenic warming - the maximum MIS 11 sea level remains highly contentious. Estimates from onshore indicators have ranged from below present sea level to about + 20m, resulting from uncertainties in reliability of sea level indicators, estimates of their subsequent displacement by vertical crustal motion and in dating. We used a clear and unambiguous sea level indicator (interface between subtidal and intertidal deposits) in well exposed, regressive raised shoreline deposits along South Africa's southern coast. The coast is stable in terms of tectonic setting and falls within a zone of low predicted glacio-isostatic adjustment (GIA) and low sensitivity for plausible model parameters. The sea level indicators were directly dated using thermally transferred optically stimulated luminescence (IT-OSL), which gave a mean age of 390 ka, corresponding with MIS 11. We determined a precise maximum elevation of +14 m for the MIS 11 sea level indicator, which corrected for minor crustal uplift and GIA yielded a eustatic sea level of + 13 m + 2 m. The complete MIS 11 transgressive/regressive shoreline succession is preserved and the wave-cut platform extends 950 m inland from the present shoreline, indicating a prolonged highstand. We have also documented sea level fluctuations during MIS 11, including an earlier (lower) highstand close to present sea level, which may explain the lower elevation range of some previous estimates. At one locality, MIS 11 deposits form a sea cliff against which MIS Se sediments (at an elevation of+ 6.2 m) abut. The +13 m MIS 11 sea level tallies with total melting of the Greenland and West Antarctica ice sheets, regarded as most susceptible to melting.Our data predict notably higher sea levels in the future, regardless of anthropogenic influence on climate.
Article
Some of the earliest records of Homo sapiens sapiens come from the coastal zone of South Africa, and it is there also that the first evidence for the human exploitation of marine resources has been found. This region is bordered by a wide and mainly level continental shelf which, at the lowest sea levels of the last glacial period, formed a large coastal plain, an environment not now common in the coastal zone. During most of the last 125,000 years, however, sea level, although lower than today, was not low enough to expose the wide level parts of the shelf, and the distance from Middle Stone Age (MSA) sites on the present coast to the Late Pleistocene shore did not generally exceed an hour's walk. A description of the shelf landscape at different sea levels casts light on two key issues of the Middle Stone Age of the southern Cape Province: a) the chronology of coastal Middle Stone Age sites; and b) the relation between available marine and terrestrial resources and their exploitation. Inferred high Pleistocene sea levels have played a key role in determining the stratigraphy of coastal Middle Stone Age sites, but a comparison with the change over time of the site-to-shore distance points up the ambiguity of this parameter. There is an urgent need for more robust dating of the Pleistocene human record in this region.
Article
Palaeogeographies of the Agulhas Bank for three low sea-level stages during the Pleistocene are presented (−140 m, −100 m and −50 m). Although they are specifically considered in relation to the last transgression (Flandrian, post-Weichsel/Würm), they are applicable to any of the previous glacial periods. In each case, the bedrock geology and expected superficial sediment cover are outlined, and general conclusions as to soil types, terrain, drainage, etc., are presented. The extended courses of local rivers in the Pleistocene are postulated from bathymetric and sedimentological data.
Article
Coastal South Africa draws interdisciplinary interests due to the co-occurrence of a rich record for early human behavioral modernity, hyper-diverse vegetation with very high endemism (the Cape Floral Region), and globally influential oceanic and climate systems. High resolution and continuous climate and environmental records are needed to provide the context for the evolution of behavioral modernity and this diverse flora. Here we present the first such record for climate and environmental change from 90 000 to 53 000 years ago from the southern Cape coast. This important time span covers a burst of expression of several indicators of human behavioral modernity, as well as several key cycles in global climate change. Our research location is ideally placed near the location of several critical archaeological sites, near the boundary of the winter and summer rainfall regimes, and close to isotopically distinct floral zones. We used isotopic analysis of precisely dated speleothems to document shifting vegetation and rainfall, and show that the presence of winter rain and C3 grasses waxes and wanes in response to Southern Hemisphere shifts in SSTs and global temperature. When proxies of global temperatures indicate warmer conditions, δ18O and δ13C indicate more winter rain and more C3 grasses, respectively, and vice versa. This record displays abrupt and short-term changes previously undocumented. It is often argued that the Cape Floral Region partially owes its high diversity to relative climatic stability. Our record shows isotopic variability that at least matches that displayed in the Levantine Mediterranean system, so climatic stability may not have characterized the south coast. One short-lived phase of human technological innovation (the Still Bay) associated with early evidence for behavioral modernity occurs synchronous with an abrupt environmental perturbation. Early modern humans in this region confronted a variable climate and adapted quickly in a manner similar to behaviorally modern humans.
Article
Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating is now commonly used to estimate the depositional age of Quaternary landforms along the southern Cape coast of South Africa. Due to the early onset of dose saturation in the quartz-rich sediments from this region, determining the age of deposits much older than the last three glacio-eustatic sea-level high stands has been a challenge. In this study, we explored the feasibility of using the thermally-transferred OSL (TT-OSL) dating method to obtain ages for aeolian and shallow marine deposits at three different localities that hold promise to further illuminate the long and complex Late Quaternary sea-level history of this region. The bleachability and behaviour of both the recuperated OSL (ReOSL) and the basic-transferred OSL (BT-OSL) signals were investigated, and used as independent chronometers to infer (a) the degree of bleaching of the sediments and (b) the stability of the ReOSL signal for dating of older samples. We examined the sensitivity of both signals to varying preheat temperatures and further developed the single-aliquot regenerative-dose procedure for TT-OSL dating of our samples. To verify our procedures, and to understand some of the underlying mechanisms responsible for the problems we observed, modern analogues and known-age Marine Isotope Sub-stage (MIS) 5e samples from the same localities were also measured. The Middle Pleistocene deposits investigated in this study produced statistically consistent ReOSL and BT-OSL ages compatible with sea-level high stands during Marine Isotope Stage 11. This result is of considerable significance, as it may yield new insights into maximum sea-level heights during this period, which is widely considered an appropriate analogue for future environmental conditions.
Article
Although few hunter-gatherers or foragers exist today, they are well documented in the ethnographic record. Anthropologists have been eager to study them since they assumed foragers represented a lifestyle that existed everywhere before 10,000 years ago and characterized our ancestors into some ill-defined but remote past. In the past few decades, that assumption has been challenged on several grounds. Ethnographically described foragers may be a biased sample that only continued to exist because they occupied marginal habitats less coveted by agricultural people.3 In addition, many foragers have been greatly influenced by their association with more powerful agricultural societies.4 It has even been suggested that Holocene foragers represent a new niche that appeared only with the climatic changes and faunal depletion at the end of the last major glaciation.5 Despite these issues, the ethnographic record of foragers provides the only direct observations of human behavior in the absence of agriculture, and as such is invaluable for testing hypotheses about human behavioral evolution.6.
Article
The impressive Pleistocene coastal aeolianite exposures in sea cliffs east of Still Bay on the west–southern coast of South Africa host a rich archive of fossil mammalian trackways, including the African elephant (Loxodonta africana). Neither the ichnofossils nor their host sediments have been described in any detail and chronologies remained uncertain. This paper presents a new optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) and amino acid racemisation (AAR) chronology (the first joint application of OSL/AAR dating in South Africa). This provides a temporal framework for assessing the palaeoenvironmental significance of dune sedimentation patterns, pedogenesis and ichnology.
Article
Genetic and anatomical evidence suggests that Homo sapiens arose in Africa between 200 and 100ka, and recent evidence suggests that complex cognition may have appeared between ~164 and 75ka. This evidence directs our focus to Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 6, when from 195-123ka the world was in a fluctuating but predominantly glacial stage, when much of Africa was cooler and drier, and when dated archaeological sites are rare. Previously we have shown that humans had expanded their diet to include marine resources by ~164ka (±12ka) at Pinnacle Point Cave 13B (PP13B) on the south coast of South Africa, perhaps as a response to these harsh environmental conditions. The associated material culture documents an early use and modification of pigment, likely for symbolic behavior, as well as the production of bladelet stone tool technology, and there is now intriguing evidence for heat treatment of lithics. PP13B also includes a later sequence of MIS 5 occupations that document an adaptation that increasingly focuses on coastal resources. A model is developed that suggests that the combined richness of the Cape Floral Region on the south coast of Africa, with its high diversity and density of geophyte plants and the rich coastal ecosystems of the associated Agulhas Current, combined to provide a stable set of carbohydrate and protein resources for early modern humans along the southern coast of South Africa during this crucial but environmentally harsh phase in the evolution of modern humans. Humans structured their mobility around the use of coastal resources and geophyte abundance and focused their occupation at the intersection of the geophyte rich Cape flora and coastline. The evidence for human occupation relative to the distance to the coastline over time at PP13B is consistent with this model.
Article
The Western Cape region of South Africa is home to a unique type of mediterranean vegetation called fynbos, as well as some of the earliest sites of modern human occupation in southern Africa. Reconstructing the paleohabitats during occupations of these early anatomically modern Homo sapiens is important for understanding the availability of resources to the humans during the development of behaviors that are often considered advanced. These reconstructions are critical to understanding the nature of the changes in the environment and resources over time. Here we analyze the craniodental fossils of the larger mammals recovered from two Pleistocene assemblages in the Pinnacle Point complex, Mossel Bay, Western Cape Region, South Africa. We reconstruct the paleohabitats as revealed by multivariate analyses of the mammalian community structures. Pinnacle Point 30 is a carnivore assemblage and Pinnacle Point 13B includes early evidence of a suite of modern human behavior; together they present an opportunity to identify environmental change over time at a localized geographic scale. Further, this is the first such study to include dated Western Cape localities from Marine Isotope Stage 6, a time of environmental pressure that may have marginalized human populations. Results indicate that environmental change in the Western Cape was more complex than generalized C(4) grassland expansions replacing fynbos habitats during glacial lowered sea levels, and thus, resources available to early modern humans in the region may not have been entirely predictable.
Stone Age people in a changing South African Greater Cape Floristic Region
  • C W Marean
  • H C Cawthra
  • R M Cowling
  • K J Esler
  • E Fisher
  • A Milewski
Marean CW, Cawthra HC, Cowling RM, Esler KJ, Fisher E., Milewski A, et al. Stone Age people in a changing South African Greater Cape Floristic Region. In: Allsopp N, Colville JF, Verboom GA, editors. Fynbos: Ecology, evolution, and conservation of a megadiverse region. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2014. p. 164-199. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:o so/9780199679584.001.0001
Nearshore Quaternary sedimentation off the south coast of South Africa: (Cape Town to Port Elizabeth) -Geological Survey Bulletin 67. Pretoria: Government Printing Works
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Birch GF. Nearshore Quaternary sedimentation off the south coast of South Africa: (Cape Town to Port Elizabeth) -Geological Survey Bulletin 67. Pretoria: Government Printing Works; 1980.
Lithostratigraphy of the Waenhuiskrans Formation (Bredasdorp Group) -South African Committee for Stratigraphy Lithostratigraphic Series 8. Pretoria: Department of Mineral and Energy Affairs
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Malan JA. Lithostratigraphy of the Waenhuiskrans Formation (Bredasdorp Group) -South African Committee for Stratigraphy Lithostratigraphic Series 8. Pretoria: Department of Mineral and Energy Affairs;1989.
Two oceans: A guide to the marine life of southern Africa
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Branch GM, Griffiths CL, Branch ML, Beckley IE. Two oceans: A guide to the marine life of southern Africa. Cape Town: David Philip; 1994.
A photographic guide to tracks and tracking in southern Africa. Cape Town
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Liebenberg L. A photographic guide to tracks and tracking in southern Africa. Cape Town; Struik Publishers; 2000.
The eternal trail -A tracker looks at evolution
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Lockley M. The eternal trail -A tracker looks at evolution. New York: Perseus Publishing; 1999.
Fynbos palaeoecology: A preliminary synthesis. Pretoria: Cooperative Scientific Programmes
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Klein RG. Palaeoenvironmental implications of Quaternary large mammals in the Fynbos Region. In: Deacon HJ, Hendey QB, Lambrechts JJN, editors. Fynbos palaeoecology: A preliminary synthesis. Pretoria: Cooperative Scientific Programmes; 1983. p. 116-138.
Footprints of the Kuiseb Delta, Namibia. The Digging Stick
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Bennett MR, Liutkus CM, Thackeray F, Morse SA, McClymont J, Stratford D. Footprints of the Kuiseb Delta, Namibia. The Digging Stick. 2010;27:3.
Namaqualand, a succulent desert
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Cowling RM, Pierce SM. Namaqualand, a succulent desert. Cape Town: Fernwood Press; 1999.
The mammals of South Africa. Volume I. London: Porter
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The Western and Northern Cape. Cape Town: Department of Nature and Environmental Conservation of the Provincial Administration of the Cape of Good Hope
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