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Testing the “shift in the balance of power” hypothesis at Swartkrans, South Africa: Hominid cave use and subsistence behavior in the Early Pleistocene

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Charles P. Egeland, Visiting Lecturer (Creator)
Institution
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/

Abstract: C.K. Brain documented two interesting patterns in the Pleistocene faunas of Swartkrans Cave, South Africa: (1) The earliest depositional units, Members 1 and 2, preserve high numbers of hominid fossils, while the numbers drop sharply in the more recent Member 3. (2) Burned bone specimens, which seem to have been altered in fires tended by hominids, appear for the first time in Member 3. It was suggested that mastery of fire provided a ?shift in the balance of power?, allowing hominids to carry out activities in the cave for the first time unmolested by predators. A lack of butchered bones in Members 1 and 2 and their presence in Member 3 provided support for the hypothesis. However, we have now identified butchered bones in all three units. Further, our findings reveal a lack of variability in butchery patterns through time at Swartkrans; in all cases hominids appear to have been proficient carcass foragers. The real ?shift? at Swartkrans does not appear to be one of eventual hominid dominance over carnivores, but rather one of a predominance of leopards at Swartkrans in Member 1 times to the alternating presence of leopards and hyenas in Members 2 and 3. Consistent leopard presence in Member 1 seems to have discouraged hominid activity in the vicinity of the cave. In contrast, by the time Members 2 and 3 were forming hominids may have temporarily used the cave, taking advantage of those periods of carnivore absence.

Additional Information

Publication
Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 27, 30-45.
Language: English
Date: 2008
Keywords
Swartkrans, Archaeofaunas, Taphonomy, Zooarchaeology, Hominid butchery, Carnivore ravaging