Evaluating the potential for tactical hunting in the Middle Stone Age: Insights from a bonebed of the extinct bovid, Rusingoryx atopocranion

Kirsten E. Jenkins, Sheila Nightingale, J. Tyler Faith, Daniel J. Peppe, Lauren A. Michel, Steven G. Driese, Kieran P. McNulty, Christian A. Tryon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


The foraging behaviors of Middle Stone Age (MSA) early modern humans have largely been based on evidence from well-stratified cave sites in South Africa. Whereas these sites have provided an abundance of data for behavioral reconstruction that are unmatched elsewhere in Africa, they are unlikely to preserve evidence of the diversity of foraging strategies employed by MSA hunters who lived in a variety of ecological and landscape settings across the African continent. Here we describe the results of recent excavations at the open-air site of Bovid Hill at Wakondo, Rusinga Island, Kenya, which yielded 24 in situ MSA artifacts within an assemblage of bones comprised exclusively of the extinct alcelaphin bovid Rusingoryx atopocranion. The excavated faunal assemblage is characterized by a prime-age-dominated mortality profile and includes cut-marked specimens and an associated MSA Levallois blade-based artifact industry recovered from a channel deposit dated to 68 ± 5 ka by optically stimulated luminescence. Taphonomic, geologic, and faunal evidence points to mass exploitation of Rusingoryx by humans at Bovid Hill, which likely represents an initial processing site that was altered post-depositionally by fluvial processes. This site highlights the importance of rivers and streams for mass procurement in an open and seasonal landscape, and provides important new insights into MSA behavioral variability with respect to environmental conditions, site function, and tactical foraging strategies in eastern Africa. Bovid Hill thus joins a growing number of MSA and Middle Paleolithic localities that are suggestive of tactical hunting behaviors and mass capture of gregarious ungulate prey.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)72-91
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
StatePublished - Jul 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Fieldwork was conducted under permits issued by the Kenya National Government and the Kenya National Museum. Funding was provided by National Science Foundation (BCS-1013199 and BCS-1013108), the Leakey Foundation, the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration (8762-10), a graduate research grant from the Geological Society of America, the University of Minnesota, Baylor University, New York University, and the University of Queensland. This work would not have been possible if not for the support of the Kenya National Museum, Dr. Emma Mbua, Dr. Fredrick Manthi, Dr. Purity Kiura, and the always helpful museum staff in the Paleontology, Archaeology, Preparation Departments. The British Institute in East Africa, the Rusinga Island Lodge, Stephen Longoria, Matthew Macharwas, Julian Ogondo, Samuel Odhiambo, Lucyline Mbogori, Joshua Siembo, Adam Cosset, Jared Olelo, Breanne Clifton, and Myra Laird all provided exceptional support in the field. This work has benefited from helpful conversations with Martha Tappen, Gil Tostevin, Emily Beverly, Austin Jenkins, Reed Coil, Samantha Porter, Linda Chisholm, Phil Slater, Aaron Armstrong, Haley O'Brien, Katherine Hayes, and John Speth and from suggestions of four anonymous reviewers, an associate editor, and Sarah Elton. Samantha Porter and Austin Jenkins assisted with editing figures and Cornel Faith provided the artistic reconstruction of Rusingoryx. Lastly, we thank the Wakondo community on Rusinga Island and the excellent and skilled excavators for their support, hard work, and enthusiasm for this project: David Ochieng Miriga, Joseph Ochieng Oyugi, Robert Onkondoyo, Isayah Onyango, Samwel Odoyo, and William Ondongo Oyoro.


  • Eastern Africa
  • Landscape use
  • Late Pleistocene
  • Mass death
  • Rusinga Island
  • Taphonomy


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