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, 60 (1), 1-33

Taphonomy and Palaeoecology of the Late Pleistocene to Middle Holocene Small Mammal Succession of El Harhoura 2 Cave (Rabat-Témara, Morocco)

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Taphonomy and Palaeoecology of the Late Pleistocene to Middle Holocene Small Mammal Succession of El Harhoura 2 Cave (Rabat-Témara, Morocco)

Emmanuelle Stoetzel et al. J Hum Evol.

Abstract

The relationship between local and global climatic variations and the origin and dispersal of Homo sapiens in Africa is complex, and North Africa may have played a major role in these events. In Morocco, very few studies are specifically dedicated to small fossil vertebrates, and neither taphonomic nor palaeoecological studies have been undertaken on these taxa, particularly in archaeological contexts. The late Pleistocene to middle Holocene succession of El Harhoura 2 cave, situated in the region of Témara, yields an exceptionally rich small vertebrate assemblage. We present the results of a first systematic, taphonomic, and palaeoecological study of the small mammals from Levels 1 to 8 of El Harhoura 2. The absence of bone sorting and polishing, as well as the presence of significant traces of digestion indicate that the small mammal bones were accumulated in the cave by predators and that no water transport occurred. Other traces observed on the surface of bones consist mainly of root marks and black traces (micro-organisms or more probably manganese) which affected the majority of the material. The percentage of fragmentation is very high in all stratigraphic levels, and the post-depositional breakage (geologic and anthropogenic phenomena) obscure the original breakage patterns of bones by predators. According to the ecology of the different species present in the levels of El Harhoura 2, and by taking into account possible biases highlighted by the taphonomic analysis, we reconstruct the palaeoenvironmental evolution in the region. For quantitative reconstructions we used two indices: the Taxonomic Habitat Index (THI) and the Gerbillinae/Murinae ratio. Late Pleistocene accumulations were characterised by a succession of humid (Levels 3, 4a, 6, and 8) and arid (Levels 2?, 5, and 7) periods, with more or less open landscapes, ending in an ultimate humid and wooded period during the middle Holocene (Level 1). We discuss particular limits of our results and interpretations, due to an important lack of taxonomic, ecological, and taphonomic knowledge in North Africa.

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