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Macromammalian Faunas, Biochronology and Palaeoecology of the Early Pleistocene Main Quarry Hominin-Bearing Deposits of the Drimolen Palaeocave System, South Africa

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Macromammalian Faunas, Biochronology and Palaeoecology of the Early Pleistocene Main Quarry Hominin-Bearing Deposits of the Drimolen Palaeocave System, South Africa

Justin W Adams et al. PeerJ.

Abstract

The Drimolen Palaeocave System Main Quarry deposits (DMQ) are some of the most prolific hominin and primate-bearing deposits in the Fossil Hominids of South Africa UNESCO World Heritage Site. Discovered in the 1990s, excavations into the DMQ have yielded a demographically diverse sample of Paranthropus robustus (including DNH 7, the most complete cranium of the species recovered to date), early Homo, Papio hamadryas robinsoni and Cercopithecoides williamsi. Alongside the hominin and primate sample is a diverse macromammalian assemblage, but prior publications have only provided a provisional species list and an analysis of the carnivores recovered prior to 2008. Here we present the first description and analysis of the non-primate macromammalian faunas from the DMQ, including all 826 taxonomically identifiable specimens catalogued from over two decades of excavation. We also provide a biochronological interpretation of the DMQ deposits and an initial discussion of local palaeoecology based on taxon representation.The current DMQ assemblage consists of the remains of minimally 147 individuals from 9 Orders and 14 Families of mammals. The carnivore assemblage described here is even more diverse than established in prior publications, including the identification of Megantereon whitei, Lycyaenops silberbergi, and first evidence for the occurrence of Dinofelis cf. barlowi and Dinofelis aff. piveteaui within a single South African site deposit. The cetartiodactyl assemblage is dominated by bovids, with the specimen composition unique in the high recovery of horn cores and dominance of Antidorcas recki remains. Other cetartiodactyl and perissodactyl taxa are represented by few specimens, as are Hystrix and Procavia; the latter somewhat surprisingly so given their common occurrence at penecontemporaneous deposits in the region. Equally unusual (particularly given the size of the sample) is the identification of single specimens of giraffoid, elephantid and aardvark (Orycteropus cf. afer) that are rarely recovered from regional site deposits. Despite the diversity within the DMQ macromammalian faunas, there are few habitat- or biochronologically-sensitive species that provide specific ecologic or age boundaries for the deposits. Recovered species can only support the non-specific, mixed open-to-closed palaeohabitats around Drimolen that have been reconstructed for the other penecontemporaneous South African palaeokarst deposits. The identified Equus quagga ssp. specimens recovered from the floor of the current excavation (∾-4.5-5 m below datum) suggests that most, if not all the DMQ specimens, were deposited after 2.33 Ma. Simultaneously, the carnivore specimens (D. cf. barlowi, L. silberbergi) suggest earlier Pleistocene (pre- 2.0-1.8 Ma) to maximally 1.6 Ma deposition (D. aff. piveteaui) for most of the DMQ fossil assemblage.

Keywords: Chasmaporthetes; Dinofelis; Homo; Lycyaenops; Megantereon; Paranthropus.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare there are no competing interests.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1. Aerial photograph and map of the Drimolen Palaeocave System relative to other penecontemporaneous South African fossil sites.
Figure 2
Figure 2. Schematic plan of the Drimolen Main Quarry excavation area and deposits.
Figure 3
Figure 3. Order Carnivora specimens attributed to the Family Felidae from the Drimolen Main Quarry.
(A) DN 2791 Dinofelis cf. barlowi right maxillary canine, buccal (left) and distal (right) views. (B) DN 976 Megantereon whitei left P4, buccal (left) and lingual (right) views. (C) DN 3254 Megantereon whitei left mandibular corpus, lateral (left) and anterior oblique (right) view of surface scan to highlight sharp diastema margin and mandibular flange. Scale bars equal 1 cm.
Figure 4
Figure 4. Bivariate plot of select Felidae maxillary canine MD length on BL width (mm), including DN 2791 Dinofelis cf. barlowi.
Metrics and regression equations presented in Table 3.
Figure 5
Figure 5. Order Carnivora specimens attributed to the Family Felidae and Hyaenidae from the Drimolen Main Quarry.
(A) DN 4300 Felidae gen. et sp. indet. right P4, buccal view. (B) DN 974 Lycyaenops silberbergi right P3, occlusal (top), lingual (left) and buccal (right) views. Scale bars equal 1 cm.
Figure 6
Figure 6. Order Cetartiodactyla specimens attributed to the Family Bovidae from the Drimolen Main Quarry.
(A) DN 2790, Damaliscus sp. right horn core, medial view. (B) DN 748a and 748b, Megalotragus sp. right M2 and M3, occlusal view. (C) DN 1015, Alcelaphini gen. et sp. indet. left mandible, occlusal view. (D) DN 1013 Alcelaphini gen. et sp. indet. right horn core, anterior (probable) view. Scale bars equal 1 cm.
Figure 7
Figure 7. Order Cetartiodactyla specimens attributed to the Family Bovidae from the Drimolen Main Quarry.
(A) DN 1060, Antidorcas recki right male horn core, medial view (left); DN 995, Antidorcas recki left female horn core, medial view (right). (B) DN 438, Oreotragus sp. right mandible, occlusal view. (C) DN 120, Tragelaphus sp. right mandible, occlusal view. Scale bars equal 1 cm.
Figure 8
Figure 8. Order Cetartiodactyla specimens attributed to the Families Giraffidae and Suidae from the Drimolen Main Quarry.
(A) DN 1097, Giraffidae gen. et sp. indet. right humerus, anterior (left) and posterior (right) views. (B) DN 2850, Suidae gen. et sp. indet. right third metatarsal, medial (left) and lateral (right) views. Scale bars equal 1 cm.
Figure 9
Figure 9. Specimens attributed to the Orders Proboscidea, Rodentia, and Tubulidentata from the Drimolen Main Quarry.
(A) DN 4335, Elephantidae gen. et sp. indet., maxillary tusk fragment, internal view. (B) DN 2760 Hystrix sp. left maxillary molar, occlusal view. (C) DN 1062 Orycteropus cf. afer right proximal radius, posteromedial view. Scale bars equal 1 cm.

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References

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Grant support

Funding for excavation and curation of the Drimolen Main Quarry deposits was provided by grants to CGM by the National Research Foundation, South Africa (African Origins Platform Grant) and by the Centre for Anthropological Research of the University of Johannesburg. Additional funding for excavation was provided by an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship (FT120100399) to AIRH. Funding for the faunal analysis presented here was provided by JWA through internal research development funds from Monash University. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

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