Integrating palaeocaves into palaeolandscapes: An analysis of cave levels and karstification history across the Gauteng Malmani dolomite, South Africa


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August 2019


The Drimolen Palaeocave System in the ‘Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa’ UNESCO World Heritage Site is well known for numerous remains of early hominins such as Paranthropus robustus and early Homo. These hominin fossils, along with bone tools and notably diverse accumulation of non-hominin primates and fauna, have all been excavated from the 'Main Quarry' area of the site where extensive lime-mining took place. Here we report the first radiometric age of 1.712 ± 0.269 Ma for hominin bearing deposits associated with the DNH7 Paranthropus robustus cranium in the Main Quarry area of the site, which is consistent with recent biochronological estimates. This age is similar to recent estimates for Swartkrans Member 1 Hanging Remnant (somewhere between 2.3 and 1.8 Ma) which also contains Paranthropus and early Homo. Simultaneously, we integrate the newly radiometrically dated Main Quarry deposits with a new fossil deposit, the Drimolen Makondo, discovered in 2013, that is situated some 50 m up the hill to the west from the Main Quarry. It has experienced only limited disturbance from mining but much more extensive erosion. Preliminary excavations and analysis have revealed that the Makondo infill is older than the Main Quarry, dating to 2.706 ± 0.428 Ma. Its greater age is confirmed by biochronology. The Makondo thus overlap with the suggested end of deposition of Australopithecus bearing Sterkfontein deposits, although it is yet to yield any hominin remains. These new dates for the two Drimolen Palaeocave System deposits indicates that, contrary to prior age estimates, the Drimolen site as a whole records the critical hominin and faunal turnover in South African palaeocommunities that occurred around 2.3–1.7 Ma. Finally, as the Drimolen Makondo represents a rare example of a pre-2 Ma fossil bearing deposit in the Gauteng exposures of the Malmani dolomite, we also integrate our results into the greater South African record of palaeodeposit formation (most of which occur between ∼2.0 and 1.0 Ma). An analysis of the


Palaeokarst, Biochronology, Micromorphology, Electron Spin Resonance Dating, Paranthropus Robustus, Early Homo, Quaternary Palaeontology, Dinofelis, Suid




Quaternary Science Reviews, Vol. 220 (2019-08-14).