Animal exploitation strategies during the South African Middle Stone Age: Howiesons Poort and post-Howiesons Poort fauna from Sibudu Cave


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June 2008


As one of the few sites that preserve fauna from the Howiesons Poort (HP) and the immediately post-HP Middle Stone Age (MSA), Sibudu Cave provides a unique opportunity to explore the range of variability in subsistence behaviors during this important phase in human behavioral evolution. In addition to providing information on subsistence, the faunal assemblage serves as a means of reconstructing the environmental conditions during these two periods. While the HP fauna is dominated by species that prefer closed (particularly forested) habitats, the fauna from the upper-most layers of the post-HP MSA are largely representative of open conditions. These results largely coincide with macrobotanical analyses and may simply indicate that the extent of the riverine forest near the site was greater during the HP. Alternatively, the pattern could be indicative of a marked intensification in the exploitation of the environment in the immediate vicinity of the shelter during the HP, perhaps resulting from a decline in the productivity of adjacent regions. We also document variation in the frequency of the different bovid size classes over time. The evidence shows a declining focus on the smallest bovids after the HP, with a parallel increase in the frequency of large and very large bovids. Beyond a heavy focus on small bovids, small mammals and suids also occur at higher frequencies during the HP. Although the HP faunal assemblage is largely unique as compared to the bulk of the MSA sequence at Sibudu, the evidence presented here suggests that the transition between the HP and the post-HP MSA may have been more gradual than abrupt. Our results indicate that the HP and post-HP MSA inhabitants of Sibudu Cave were capable hunters; however, hunting strategies appear to show marked variation over time. We propose that the variability in animal procurement strategies reflects a degree of behavioral plasticity beyond that generally attributed to MSA populations.


Zooarchaeology, Human Behavioral Evolution, Paleoenvironment, Late Pleistocene, Behavioral Variability

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