Taphonomic and paleoecological change in the large mammal sequence from Boomplaas Cave, western Cape, South Africa

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Journal of Human Evolution


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Excavations conducted by H.J. Deacon in the 1970s at Boomplaas Cave (BPA) uncovered a stratified sequence of Middle Stone Age (MSA) and Later Stone Age (LSA) deposits spanning the last >65,000 years. This study provides the first comprehensive and integrated taphonomic and paleoecological analysis of the BPA large mammals, with a focus on its implications for understanding human adaptations and environmental changes in southern Africa's Cape Floristic Region (CFR), an area that features prominently in understanding modern human origins. Taphonomic data indicate a complex history of human, carnivore, and raptor accumulation of the large mammal assemblage. The anthropogenic signal is largely absent from the bottom of the sequence (>65,000 years ago), intermediate in MSA and LSA assemblages from ∼50,000 to 20,000 years ago, and strong in LSA deposits post-dating the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). When viewed in the broader CFR context, the inferred occupation history of BPA is consistent with the hypothesis that both MSA and LSA human populations were concentrated on the submerged coastline from ∼60,000 to ∼20,000 years ago. Intensive occupation following the LGM parallels an apparent increase in regional population densities, which may have been driven in part by rising sea levels. The BPA ungulate assemblage is characterized by the rise and decline of a taxonomically diverse grazing community, which peaks during the LGM. These changes are not correlated with taphonomic shifts, meaning that they are likely driven by environmental factors, namely the expansion and contraction of grassland habitats. Changes in ungulate diversity indicate that effective precipitation was highest during the LGM, corresponding with an intensified winter rainfall system. This is consistent with recent arguments that the LGM in this region may not have been extremely harsh and arid.


Cape Floristic Region, Howiesons Poort, Last Glacial Maximum, Later Stone Age, Middle Stone Age, Zooarchaeology

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