Faunal assemblage composition and paleoenvironment of Plovers Lake, a Middle Stone Age locality in Gauteng Province, South Africa.
Plovers Lake is a dolomitic cave infill located approximately 45km northwest of Johannesburg in the Bloubank Valley, Gauteng Province, South Africa. Excavations between 2002-2004 revealed a rich and diverse fauna, a moderate-sized stone tool assemblage of Middle Stone Age (MSA) character, and human skeletal remains. Two principal depositional units are recognized: 1) a disturbed ex situ component that was likely displaced from 2) an otherwise relatively undisturbed in situ component from which the human skeletal material was recovered. The in situ depositional unit is bracketed by 2 flowstone layers, with U-series dates of 62.9 (+/-1.3)ka for the capping flowstone and 88.7 (+/-1.6)ka for the underlying flowstone. A single isochron ESR date of 75.6 (+/-5.6)ka corroborates the U-series dates. This paper presents an analysis of the mammalian, bird, and reptile faunas recovered from these two units. The two faunal assemblages show close correspondence in taphonomic, taxonomic, and ecological composition, supporting a common origin for both the ex situ and in situ components. Although human skeletal material, cut-marked bone, and stone tools have been recovered, these indications are too rare to consider Plovers Lake a human occupation site. Instead, a high abundance of carnivores, coprolites, and carnivore damaged bones point to brown hyenas as the principal, though not exclusive, bone accumulating agent. In the absence of a significant taphonomic bias relating to accumulating agent, Plovers Lake allows us to document an environment occupied by MSA humans, even if the humans were not resident in the cave itself. We reconstruct the paleoenvironment of Plovers Lake as predominantly grassland, though it was colder, moister, and more wooded than at present. Paleoclimatic conditions appear to have been as different from historic norms as those seen in several fossil localities in the Western Cape, pointing to greater environmental heterogeneity than has previously been documented for the region in the later Pleistocene.
de Ruiter, DJ; Brophy, JK; Lewis, PJ; Churchill, SE; Berger, LR
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