Taphonomic perspectives on hominid site use and foraging strategies during Bed II times at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania

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

Abstract: The faunal assemblages excavated by Mary Leakey in Bed II of Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, have, like the more well-known Bed I assemblages, traditionally been interpreted as the result of hominid butchering activities in the lake margin and riverine settings of the paleo-Olduvai Basin. A reexamination of all of Leakey’s Bed I sites has shown that hominids played little or no role in the formation of all but one of those faunal assemblages, a finding that prompted the reanalysis of the Bed II sites presented here. We expand upon a previous taphonomic study that provided systematic data for HWK East Levels 1–2, MNK Main, and BK. In addition to these assemblages, we provide data on HWK East Levels 3–5, FC West, TK, and SHK. Our data contradict previous interpretations of MNK Main as a hominid accumulation but uphold the contention that BK represents a primarily hominid accumulation reflecting early access to carcasses. The small and poorly preserved assemblages from FC West and TK are difficult to link un-ambiguously to either hominids or carnivores. Site MNK Main and HWK East Levels 3–5 appear to be death arenas where carcasses accumulated via natural deaths and/or serial predation. Site SHK is severely biased by selective retention and therefore little can be said of its formational history. Nevertheless, no hominid modifications were documented in this assemblage. Comparisons with other Olduvai sites indicate a more conspicuous hyena taphonomic signal during Bed II times than Bed I times, which appears to mirror the changing configuration of the large carnivore guild. These findings also beg the question of what activities were being carried out by hominids with the stone tools discarded at these sites. Although it seems clear that hominids were utilizing stone tools to carry out subsistence activities unrelated to carcass butchery, more excavation and techniques such as phytolith analysis should be employed to explore alternative explanations.

Additional Information

Journal of Human Evolution 55, 1031-1052
Language: English
Date: 2008
Bone surface modifications, Breakage patterns, Cutmarks, Taphonomy, Tooth marks

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