Where the Wild Things Were: Spatial and Temporal Distribution of Carnivores in the Cradle of Humankind (Gauteng, South Africa) in Relation to the Accumulation of Mammalian and Hominin Assemblages
Authors: Reynolds, S.C.
Journal: Journal of Taphonomy
This paper examines the temporal and spatial distribution patterns of carnivore species in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage site, South Africa. These taxa are inferred to have played an active role in the accumulation of the mammalian faunas, including hominins. There are distinct temporal changes in the predominating large carnivores at sites across the Sterkfontein Valley and beyond, although certain assemblages from the Cradle sites show evidence of time-averaging. By the mid-to late Pleistocene, the structure of the carnivore community was altered by the extinction of the three machairodont genera (Dinofelis, Homotherium and Megantereon), the giant hyaena, Pachycrocuta and the hunting hyaena genus Chasmaporthetes. The younger assemblages from Sterkfontein and Swartkrans show increasing proportions of smaller canids and felids. Extant carnivore species show a distinctive prey accumulation bias, depending on the body size and sociality of the species concerned. Social species such as the lion (Panthera leo), spotted hyaena (Crocuta crocuta) and black-backed jackals (Canis mesomelas) are common in the Cradle deposits, both in time and space, and so were probably resident species in this region. Although present at certain sites, the relative scarcity of cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) and giant short-faced hyaena (Pachycrocuta brevirostris) indicate that these taxa are unlikely to have been permanently resident within the catchment areas of the sites. Certain taxa such as the leopard (Panthera pardus), are present at low levels at the majority of sites, and remain active in the Cradle of Humankind to the present day. These distribution patterns yield insights into the likely contributors to the fossil assemblages of this important region.
Preferred by: Sally Reynolds