An exclusively hyena-collected bone assemblage in the Late Pleistocene of Sicily: taphonomy and stratigraphic context of the large mammal remains from San Teodoro Cave (North-Eastern Sicily, Italy)
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A detailed taphonomic analysis of the large mammal assemblage from 1998 to 2006 excavations at San Teodoro Cave is presented, taking into account the stratigraphic context of the deposits. Three not strictly contemporary fossiliferous levels having different lithological features have been detected, here named B-I, B-II, and B-III. Fossil remains are prevalently accumulated in B-I and B-II. The three levels are characterized by evidence of Crocuta crocuta spelaea occupation, represented by their skeletal remains, coprolites, and distinctive damages on the bones, similar to fossil and modern spotted hyena dens from Europe and Africa. A differential distribution of coprolites and small digested bones, probably due to different humidity conditions, has been recognized in B-I and B-II, and can be related to different topographic locations within the cave or to different climate conditions during the sedimentation phases. The very low density of fossil remains in B-III, which is the oldest level, could indicate an area that was less inhabited by hyenas, probably due to geomorphological conditions. Taphonomic comparison of the three fossiliferous levels of the San Teodoro Cave deposits points to a long-term, perhaps cyclic, occupation of the cave by hyenas and confirms the cave as one of the most important Pleistocene hyena dens in Europe.