Plio Pleistocene Palaeontology Section

Pretoria, South Africa

Plio Pleistocene Palaeontology Section

Pretoria, South Africa
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Adams J.W.,Monash University | Olah A.,Monash University | McCurry M.R.,Monash University | Potze S.,Plio Pleistocene Palaeontology Section | Wilson B.A.,University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign
PLoS ONE | Year: 2015

Nearly a century of paleontological excavation and analysis from the cave deposits of the Cradle of Humankind UNESCO World Heritage Site in northeastern South Africa underlies much of our understanding of the evolutionary history of hominins, other primates and other mammal lineages in the late Pliocene and early Pleistocene of Africa. As one of few designated fossil repositories, the Plio-Pleistocene Palaeontology Section of the Ditsong National Museum of Natural History (DNMNH; the former Transvaal Museum) curates much of the mammalian faunas recovered from the fossil-rich deposits of major South African hominin-bearing localities, including the holotype and paratype specimens of many primate, carnivore, and other mammal species (Orders Primates, Carnivora, Artiodactyla, Eulipotyphla, Hyracoidea, Lagomorpha, Perissodactyla, and Proboscidea). Here we describe an open-access digital archive of high-resolution, full-color three-dimensional (3D) surface meshes of all 89 non-hominin holotype, paratype and significant mammalian specimens curated in the Plio-Pleistocene Section vault. Surface meshes were generated using a commercial surface scanner (Artec Spider, Artec Group, Luxembourg), are provided in formats that can be opened in both open-source and commercial software, and can be readily downloaded either via an online data repository (MorphoSource) or via direct request from the DNMNH. In addition to providing surface meshes for each specimen, we also provide tomographic data (both computerized tomography [CT] and microfocus [microCT]) for a subset of these fossil specimens. This archive of the DNMNH Plio-Pleistocene collections represents the first research-quality 3D datasets of African mammal fossils to be made openly available. This simultaneously provides the paleontological community with essential baseline information (e.g., updated listing and 3D record of specimens in their current state of preservation) and serves as a single resource of high-resolution digital data that improves collections accessibility, reduces unnecessary duplication of efforts by researchers, and encourages ongoing imaging-based paleobiological research across a range of South African non-hominin fossil faunas. Because the types, paratypes, and key specimens include globally-distributed mammal taxa, this digital archive not only provides 3D morphological data on taxa fundamental to Neogene and Quaternary South African palaeontology, but also lineages critical to research on African, other Old World, and New World paleocommunities. With such a broader impact of the DNMNH 3D data, we hope that establishing open access to this digital archive will encourage other researchers and institutions to provide similar resources that increase accessibility to paleontological collections and support advanced paleobiological analyses. © 2015 Adams et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


Dominguez-Rodrigo M.,Institute Evolucion en Africa | Dominguez-Rodrigo M.,Complutense University of Madrid | Pickering T.R.,University of Wisconsin - Madison | Pickering T.R.,University of Witwatersrand | And 19 more authors.
PLoS ONE | Year: 2013

Recent excavations in Level 4 at BK (Bed II, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania) have yielded nine hominin teeth, a distal humerus fragment, a proximal radius with much of its shaft, a femur shaft, and a tibia shaft fragment (cataloged collectively as OH 80). Those elements identified more specifically than to simply Hominidae gen. et sp. indet are attributed to Paranthropus boisei. Before this study, incontrovertible P. boisei partial skeletons, for which postcranial remains occurred in association with taxonomically diagnostic craniodental remains, were unknown. Thus, OH 80 stands as the first unambiguous, dentally associated Paranthropus partial skeleton from East Africa. The morphology and size of its constituent parts suggest that the fossils derived from an extremely robust individual who, at 1.338±0.024 Ma (1 sigma), represents one of the most recent occurrences of Paranthropus before its extinction in East Africa. © 2013 Domínguez-Rodrigo et al.


Pickering T.R.,University of Wisconsin - Madison | Pickering T.R.,University of Witwatersrand | Dominguez-Rodrigo M.,IDEA Institute Evolucion en Africa | Dominguez-Rodrigo M.,Complutense University of Madrid | And 10 more authors.
Journal of Archaeological Science | Year: 2013

The phenomenon of equifinality complicates behavioral interpretations of faunal assemblages from contexts in which Pleistocene hominins are suspected bone accumulators. Stone tool butchery marks on ungulate fossils are diagnostic of hominin activities, but debate continues over the higher-order implications of butchered bones for the foraging capabilities of hominins. Additionally, tooth marks imparted on bones by hominins overlap in morphology and dimensions with those created by some non-hominin carnivores, further confounding our view of early hominins as meat-eating hunters, scavengers or both. We report on the manual/oral peeling of cortical layers of ungulate ribs as taphonomically diagnostic of hominoid/hominin meat- and bone-eating behavior that indicates access to large herbivore carcasses by hominins at the site of BK, Olduvai. Supporting these inferences, we show that certain types of rib peeling damage are very rare or completely unknown in faunas created by modern carnivores and African porcupines, but common in faunas modified by the butchery and/or consumption activities of modern humans and chimpanzees, during which these hominoids often grasp ribs with their hands, and then used their teeth to peel strips of cortex from raggedly chewed ends of the ribs. Carnivores consume ungulate ribcage tissues soon after kills, so diagnostic traces of hominin butchery/consumption on ribs (i.e., peeling and butchery marks) indicate early access to ungulate carcasses by BK hominins. Tooth marks associated with the peeling and butchery marks are probably hominin-derived, andmay indicate that itwas not uncommon for our ancestors to use their teeth to strip meat from and to consume portions of ribs. Recognition of rib peeling as a diagnostic signature of hominoid/hominin behavior may also aid the search for pre-archaeological traces of hominin meat-eating. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.


PubMed | Monash University and Plio Pleistocene Palaeontology Section
Type: Journal Article | Journal: PloS one | Year: 2015

Nearly a century of paleontological excavation and analysis from the cave deposits of the Cradle of Humankind UNESCO World Heritage Site in northeastern South Africa underlies much of our understanding of the evolutionary history of hominins, other primates and other mammal lineages in the late Pliocene and early Pleistocene of Africa. As one of few designated fossil repositories, the Plio-Pleistocene Palaeontology Section of the Ditsong National Museum of Natural History (DNMNH; the former Transvaal Museum) curates much of the mammalian faunas recovered from the fossil-rich deposits of major South African hominin-bearing localities, including the holotype and paratype specimens of many primate, carnivore, and other mammal species (Orders Primates, Carnivora, Artiodactyla, Eulipotyphla, Hyracoidea, Lagomorpha, Perissodactyla, and Proboscidea). Here we describe an open-access digital archive of high-resolution, full-color three-dimensional (3D) surface meshes of all 89 non-hominin holotype, paratype and significant mammalian specimens curated in the Plio-Pleistocene Section vault. Surface meshes were generated using a commercial surface scanner (Artec Spider, Artec Group, Luxembourg), are provided in formats that can be opened in both open-source and commercial software, and can be readily downloaded either via an online data repository (MorphoSource) or via direct request from the DNMNH. In addition to providing surface meshes for each specimen, we also provide tomographic data (both computerized tomography [CT] and microfocus [microCT]) for a subset of these fossil specimens. This archive of the DNMNH Plio-Pleistocene collections represents the first research-quality 3D datasets of African mammal fossils to be made openly available. This simultaneously provides the paleontological community with essential baseline information (e.g., updated listing and 3D record of specimens in their current state of preservation) and serves as a single resource of high-resolution digital data that improves collections accessibility, reduces unnecessary duplication of efforts by researchers, and encourages ongoing imaging-based paleobiological research across a range of South African non-hominin fossil faunas. Because the types, paratypes, and key specimens include globally-distributed mammal taxa, this digital archive not only provides 3D morphological data on taxa fundamental to Neogene and Quaternary South African palaeontology, but also lineages critical to research on African, other Old World, and New World paleocommunities. With such a broader impact of the DNMNH 3D data, we hope that establishing open access to this digital archive will encourage other researchers and institutions to provide similar resources that increase accessibility to paleontological collections and support advanced paleobiological analyses.


Gibbon R.J.,University of New Brunswick | Pickering T.R.,University of Wisconsin - Madison | Pickering T.R.,University of Witwatersrand | Sutton M.B.,University of Witwatersrand | And 6 more authors.
Quaternary Geochronology | Year: 2014

Based on the cosmogenic nuclide burial dating technique, we present new radiometric age estimates of 2.19±0.08 and 1.80±0.09 million-years-old (Ma) for Member 1, and 0.96±0.09Ma for Member 3 of the Swartkrans Formation in South Africa. Our data are consistent with, and expand upon, results from previous radiometric dating techniques used at the site. The burial ages of Member 1 are consistent with the uranium-lead (U-Pb) age provided by bracketing flowstones (Pickering etal., 2011), while the age of Member 3 is significantly more precise than the large age bracket provided by U-Pb dating of tooth enamel (Balter etal., 2008) and recently re-evaluated electron spin resonance data (Herries and Adams, 2013). These new dates provide the complete age range for the extinct hominin, Paranthropus robustus, as well as indicate the first appearance of the genus Homo in southern Africa. Our results also indicate: the first, as well as the last, manufacture and use of bone digging tools in South Africa; some of the earliest evidence of stone tool use and large animal butchery in South Africa; and one of the earliest archaeological indications of the domestication of fire in the world. © 2014 Elsevier B.V.


Pickering T.R.,University of Wisconsin - Madison | Pickering T.R.,University of Witwatersrand | Heaton J.L.,University of Witwatersrand | Heaton J.L.,Birmingham-Southern College | And 5 more authors.
Journal of Human Evolution | Year: 2016

We describe 14 hominin teeth and tooth fragments excavated recently from Swartkrans Cave (South Africa). The fossils derive from Members 1 (Lower Bank) and 3, from the Member 2/3 interface and from two deposits not yet assigned to member (the “Talus Cone Deposit” and the “Underground North Excavation” [UNE]) of the Swartkrans Formation, and include the first hominin fossil from the UNE, the two smallest Paranthropus robustus deciduous maxillary second molars in the entire hominin fossil record, and one of the smallest P. robustus permanent maxillary second molars from Swartkrans. The small permanent molar is accompanied by another tooth from a different individual but from the same stratigraphic level of the Swartkrans Formation; this second tooth is among, if not, the largest P. robustus permanent maxillary first molars known from anywhere—lending credence to assertions that degrees of body size sexual dimorphism previously ascribed to this species may be underestimated. It is more equivocal whether this evidence also supports hypotheses proposing that P. robustus assemblages from Swartkrans (as well as those from other South African cave sites) formed through the taphonomically biasing actions of large carnivores. © 2016 Elsevier Ltd


Pickering T.R.,University of Wisconsin - Madison | Pickering T.R.,University of Witwatersrand | Heaton J.L.,Plio Pleistocene Palaeontology Section | Heaton J.L.,Birmingham-Southern College | And 5 more authors.
Journal of Human Evolution | Year: 2012

Member 1 of the Swartkrans Formation is comprised of two sedimentary infills, the Lower Bank (LB) and the Hanging Remnant (HR). Together, the LB and HR preserve fossils of early . Homo and . Paranthropus robustus, Earlier Stone Age lithic artifacts, purported bone digging tools and butchered animal bones. Collectively, this evidence was the first to establish the co-existence of two early Pleistocene hominid species and also led to inferences of plant root harvesting and meat-eating by one or both of those species. . P. robustus is the more abundant of the two hominids at Swartrkrans, represented in Member 1 by hundreds of fossils that derive from at least 99 individuals. Thus, Swartkrans Member 1 stands as the world's single largest repository of that extinct species. Here we add to the Member 1 sample of hominid fossils with descriptions of 14 newly discovered specimens. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.


Grine F.E.,State University of New York at Stony Brook | Bromage T.G.,New York University | Daegling D.J.,University of Florida | Burr D.B.,Indiana University | And 2 more authors.
Journal of Human Evolution | Year: 2015

Microbiological degradation is one of the most important factors responsible for the destruction of bone in archaeological contexts. Microscopic focal destruction (MFD) is the most prevalent form of microbial tunneling and is encountered very commonly in human bones from archaeological sites, whereas animal bones from these same sites show significantly better preservation if they were deposited in a fragmentary (e.g., butchered) state. Similarly, most fossils show either no evidence or only minor traces of bacterial osteolysis. These observations and experimental evidence point to an endogenous origin for osteolytic bacteria, suggesting that bone bioerosion could potentially aid in reconstructing early taphonomic events. We here report extensive MFD in the mandibular corpus of a small (presumptive female) individual of the hominin Paranthropus robustus from the Early Pleistocene site of Swartkrans, South Africa. The specimen (SKX 5013) derives in situ from the Member 2 deposit, which is dated to ca. 1.5-1.0Ma. Examination of sections from the corpus by backscattered electron microscopy reveals numerous small linear longitudinal and budded tunneling cavities, which tend to be concentrated around Haversian canals and are more abundant closer to the endosteal aspect of the section. The taphonomy of Swartkrans has been the subject of intense investigation, and given the possibility that different agents of accumulation may have been responsible for the faunal and hominin fossils in the different members at the site, the observation that a specimen of P.robustus from Member 2 displays significant microbial osteolysis is of potential interest. A study of the prevalence of this process in adequately large samples of the animal bones from these units may yield novel insights and provide refinement of our understanding of their taphonomic histories. Such observations might well reveal differences among the various members that could provide another valuable source of osteoarchaeological information for the site. © 2015 Elsevier Ltd.


Grine F.E.,State University of New York at Stony Brook | Bromage T.G.,New York University | Daegling D.J.,University of Florida | Burr D.B.,Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis | Brain C.K.,Plio Pleistocene Palaeontology Section
Journal of Human Evolution | Year: 2015

Microbiological degradation is one of the most important factors responsible for the destruction of bone in archaeological contexts. Microscopic focal destruction (MFD) is the most prevalent form of microbial tunneling and is encountered very commonly in human bones from archaeological sites, whereas animal bones from these same sites show significantly better preservation if they were deposited in a fragmentary (e.g., butchered) state. Similarly, most fossils show either no evidence or only minor traces of bacterial osteolysis. These observations and experimental evidence point to an endogenous origin for osteolytic bacteria, suggesting that bone bioerosion could potentially aid in reconstructing early taphonomic events. We here report extensive MFD in the mandibular corpus of a small (presumptive female) individual of the hominin Paranthropus robustus from the Early Pleistocene site of Swartkrans, South Africa. The specimen (SKX 5013) derives in situ from the Member 2 deposit, which is dated to ca. 1.5-1.0Ma. Examination of sections from the corpus by backscattered electron microscopy reveals numerous small linear longitudinal and budded tunneling cavities, which tend to be concentrated around Haversian canals and are more abundant closer to the endosteal aspect of the section. The taphonomy of Swartkrans has been the subject of intense investigation, and given the possibility that different agents of accumulation may have been responsible for the faunal and hominin fossils in the different members at the site, the observation that a specimen of P.robustus from Member 2 displays significant microbial osteolysis is of potential interest. A study of the prevalence of this process in adequately large samples of the animal bones from these units may yield novel insights and provide refinement of our understanding of their taphonomic histories. Such observations might well reveal differences among the various members that could provide another valuable source of osteoarchaeological information for the site. © 2015 Elsevier Ltd.


PubMed | University of Florida, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Plio Pleistocene Palaeontology Section, Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis and New York University
Type: | Journal: Journal of human evolution | Year: 2015

Microbiological degradation is one of the most important factors responsible for the destruction of bone in archaeological contexts. Microscopic focal destruction (MFD) is the most prevalent form of microbial tunneling and is encountered very commonly in human bones from archaeological sites, whereas animal bones from these same sites show significantly better preservation if they were deposited in a fragmentary (e.g., butchered) state. Similarly, most fossils show either no evidence or only minor traces of bacterial osteolysis. These observations and experimental evidence point to an endogenous origin for osteolytic bacteria, suggesting that bone bioerosion could potentially aid in reconstructing early taphonomic events. We here report extensive MFD in the mandibular corpus of a small (presumptive female) individual of the hominin Paranthropus robustus from the Early Pleistocene site of Swartkrans, South Africa. The specimen (SKX 5013) derives in situ from the Member 2 deposit, which is dated to ca. 1.5-1.0Ma. Examination of sections from the corpus by backscattered electron microscopy reveals numerous small linear longitudinal and budded tunneling cavities, which tend to be concentrated around Haversian canals and are more abundant closer to the endosteal aspect of the section. The taphonomy of Swartkrans has been the subject of intense investigation, and given the possibility that different agents of accumulation may have been responsible for the faunal and hominin fossils in the different members at the site, the observation that a specimen of P.robustus from Member 2 displays significant microbial osteolysis is of potential interest. A study of the prevalence of this process in adequately large samples of the animal bones from these units may yield novel insights and provide refinement of our understanding of their taphonomic histories. Such observations might well reveal differences among the various members that could provide another valuable source of osteoarchaeological information for the site.

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