A Comparative Study of Life and Death at Middle Stone Age Open-Air Sites within the Southern African Interior
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The purpose of this dissertation is to determine the agent(s) of accumulation for the fossil bone assemblages from Bundu Farm and Pniel 6, two Middle Stone Age (MSA), open-air archaeological sites located near seasonal bodies of water in the Northern Cape Province, South Africa. A primary goal is to further establish the relationship between the early MSA artifacts and faunal remains recovered from the sites, and to determine whether that association indicates hominin hunting or primary access to carcasses, or secondary scavenging from non-hominin carnivore kills and other natural death events. The wider objective is to expand our current understanding of hominin subsistence behaviors during this important period of human evolution, models of which are largely based on evidence inferred from coastal cave archaeological sites. For comparison, I detail the modern bone accumulations resulting from carnivore serial predation surrounding a complex of seasonal waterholes at Ngamo Pan, located in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. As both hominin and non-hominin carnivore influence is to be expected at open-air bone assemblages, the actualistic studies at Ngamo Pan provide baseline measures for which to determine the relative impacts of those agents of accumulation at Bundu Farm, Pniel 6, and other open-air archaeological sites. The Bundu Farm pan site, dating to roughly 245 ka, preserved zooarchaeological and taphonomic features in the faunal assemblage indicative of early access to animal carcasses by early MSA hominins, followed by secondary scavenging by non-hominin carnivores. The faunal assemblage from the Pniel 6 riverine site, tentatively dated ~243-300 ka, yielded evidence to suggest secondary scavenging by early MSA hominins from carnivore kills or other natural deaths. Similar to many MSA coastal cave sites, these open-air sites within the interior of southern Africa show variability among hominin subsistence behaviors, but patterns consistent with adaptations to more marginal grassland environments as opposed to the relatively more wet and productive coastal environments. The open grassland expanse surrounding Ngamo Pan serves as fitting analog to interpret the processes of natural bone accumulation in these environments. The modern bone assemblages resulting from carnivore serial predation at Ngamo Pan included many of the same patterns shown at Bundu Farm and Pniel 6, thus there is a limited set of variables that can be used to distinguish between hominin and non-hominin carnivore bone accumulations at open-air archaeological sites. Analyses that can distinguish between the two agents of accumulation are mortality profiles, correlations between limb bone density and carnivore feeding behaviors, and hominin and non-hominin carnivore bone surface modifications. Measures that provide ambiguous results include site location and bone distribution, species representation, raw skeletal part representation, correlations with hunter-gatherer transport decisions, trampling and weathering damage, and bone breakage patterns.