Hominid butchers and biting crocodiles in the African Plio–Pleistocene

Hominid butchers and biting crocodiles in the African Plio–Pleistocene

6 Pages · 2017 · 1.28 MB · English

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Hominid butchers and biting crocodiles in the African Plio – Pleistocene Yonatan Sahle a,1, Sireen El Zaatari b, and Tim D White c,d,1 aDeutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) Center for Advanced Studies: “Words, Bones, Genes, Tools, ”University of Tübingen, 72070 Tübingen, Germany; bPaleoanthropology, Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Paleoenvironment, University of Tübingen, 72070 Tübingen, Germany; cHuman Evolution Research Center (HERC), University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720; and dDepartment of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720 Contributed by Tim D White, October 4, 2017 (sent for review September 17, 2017; reviewed by Clark Spencer Larsen and Sileshi Semaw) Zooarchaeologists have long relied on linear traces and pits found on the surfaces of ancient bones to infer ancient hominidbehaviors such as slicing, chopping, and percussive actions during butchery of mammal carcasses However, such claims about Plio – Pleistocene hominids rely mostly on very small assemblages ofbony remains Furthermore, recent experiments on trampling animals and biting crocodiles have shown each to be capable of pro ducing mimics of such marks This equifinality —the creation of similar products by different processes —makes deciphering early archaeological bone assemblages difficult Bone modifications among Ethiopian Plio –Pleistocene hominid and faunal remains at Asa Issie, Maka, Hadar, and Bouri were reassessed in light of thesefindings The results show that crocodiles were important modifiers of these bone assemblages The relative roles of hominids, mammalian carnivores, and crocodiles in the formation of Oldo wan zooarchaeological assemblages will only be accuratelyrevealed by better bounding equifinality Critical analysis withina consiliencebased approach is identified as the pathway forward More experimental studies and increased archaeological fieldwork aimed at generating adequate samples are now required zooarchaeology |Oldowan |taphonomy |cutmarks |equifinality T races on bone surfaces play an important role in document ing humanity ’s everbroadening subsistence base Prominent recent claims of stone tool use at ∼34 million years (Ma) (1, 2), occupation of Eurasia by 26 Ma (3), and hominids in California at ∼130 Ky (4) employ such evidence Experimental and naturalistic investigations in the 1980s led to a claimed dichotomy between Ushaped marks left on bones by “ carnivore ”teeth, and Vshaped traces (cutmarks) inflicted by stone tools (5, 6) Assertions that internal striae and shoulder marks were uniquely associated with cutmarks (7) were aug mented by similar claims for percussion pits and associated striae (8, 9) Today these features are treated as “signature criteria ” (10) and widely thought to accurately diagnose stone tool butchery Oldowan bone and lithic assemblages from Olduvai ( ∼18 Ma) and other excavations have been intensively analyzed for decades and used in considerations of human evolution Indeed, funda mentally different inferences about early hominid carcass pro curement and butchery (eg, hunting vs scavenging) have been derived from such analyses of the very same assemblages (11, 12) Zooarchaeologists have largely followed the orthodoxy that stone tool modifications to bone surfaces are accurately di agnosable from mammalian carnivore damage, and routinely use carnivore to mean mammalian carnivore However, a few zooarchaeologists persistently doubted the proclaimed tool/carnivore dichotomy and cautioned against overreliance on microscopic techniques (13 –15) Lyman consis tently and prophetically cautioned that equifinality could cripple inferences about ancient behavior (16) Early experiments even revealed that animal trampling could mimic cutmarks (17) But with the tool/carnivore dichotomy meme embedded, paleoan thropological attention increasingly focused on subsistence It is now recognized that “linear marks ”and other bone sur face modifications can result from interacting agents that range from people to plants (18) On the basis of the mark(s) alone, it is often difficult to distinguish among the modifying objects (the tooth surface, stone tool edge, or sedimentary particle) and their effectors (the bone chewer, trampling animal, or hominid butcher) Decades of actualistic research have now demonstrated that equifinality cannot be reduced to insignificance with a few more technological advances or experimental studies (19) In deed, rather

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