Life and death at Dmanisi, Georgia: Taphonomic signals from the fossil mammals

Martha Tappen, Maia Bukhsianidze, Reid Ferring, Reed Coil, David Lordkipanidze

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations

Abstract

There are many hypotheses regarding influences on the early hominin biogeographic spread into Eurasia; among them is increased meat-eating. Dmanisi in Georgia is one of the rare Early Pleistocene sites in Eurasia, and here we present primary information and analysis of the medium and large mammal taphonomy, contributing information about site formation and the hominins’ interaction with the fauna. Nearly 85% of the specimens come from the B1 stratum. Relative abundances of mammal families demonstrate some bias toward carnivores, especially Canis borjgali, and diverse Felidae species. Bones display little weathering. Post-depositional surface modifications and matrix obscure many bone surfaces, but carnivore tooth marking is the most common bone surface modification from the nutritive taphonomic phase. Tooth pits are large, in the size range of those made by modern Crocuta crocuta and Panthera leo. Breakage variables indicate most breaks occurred while the bones were still fresh, many by carnivore consumption. Fairly even limb bone representation of herbivores suggests carcasses were introduced to the site nearly whole. Hominin tool marks are present in low frequencies, but they suggest a variety of behaviors. These marks are found on Equus, Palaeotragus, Bison, large cervids, Pseudodama, Canis, and Mammuthus. Some were made by filleting proximal limb segments, and so are likely indicative of early access to carcasses, while other marks suggest scavenging. The Homo taphonomic variables resemble the rest of the taphonomic signatures from the site with little weathering, a slightly higher percentage of their bones are whole, but only a few have probable carnivore damage. The assemblage characteristics are compared to modern actualistic and experimental assemblages, and it is concluded that Dmanisi presents a palimpsest of hyena denning, felid activity, hominin meat-eating and likely natural deaths.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103249
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
Volume171
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by The L.S.B. Leakey Foundation, the University of Minnesota, the National Science Foundation grants BCS 1019408 and BCS-1025245, Fulbright Fellowships, the National Geographic Society, the Scopes Foundation, the Rustaveli Georgian National Science Foundation, and the Templeton Foundation. The work is the result of collaborative efforts of the entire Dmanisi team. We thank Sandy Weisberg, Wenjun Lang, and Sara Sernaker for statistical assistance. Big thanks to Tappen's students and former students at the University of Minnesota: Sabrina Curran, Claire Kirchoff, Sarah Hampton, Aaron Armstrong, Kirsten Jenkins, Katrina Yezzi-Woodley, Sean Greer, and Samantha Gogol, all of whom helped with bone observations and data collection. M.T. thanks Julian Kerbis for access to collections and discussions at the FMNH, and Julia Laden for assistance with figures. We also thank the anonymous reviewers and the editors of this volume for perspicacious comments and editorial advice. This paper could not have been written without the patience and assistance of Marina Jananashvili, Holly Tappen, Aria Steele, and Julia Laden.

Funding Information:
This work was supported by The L.S.B. Leakey Foundation , the University of Minnesota , the National Science Foundation grants BCS 1019408 and BCS-1025245 , Fulbright Fellowships , the National Geographic Society , the Scopes Foundation , the Rustaveli Georgian National Science Foundation , and the Templeton Foundation . The work is the result of collaborative efforts of the entire Dmanisi team. We thank Sandy Weisberg, Wenjun Lang, and Sara Sernaker for statistical assistance. Big thanks to Tappen's students and former students at the University of Minnesota: Sabrina Curran, Claire Kirchoff, Sarah Hampton, Aaron Armstrong, Kirsten Jenkins, Katrina Yezzi-Woodley, Sean Greer, and Samantha Gogol, all of whom helped with bone observations and data collection. M.T. thanks Julian Kerbis for access to collections and discussions at the FMNH, and Julia Laden for assistance with figures. We also thank the anonymous reviewers and the editors of this volume for perspicacious comments and editorial advice. This paper could not have been written without the patience and assistance of Marina Jananashvili, Holly Tappen, Aria Steele, and Julia Laden.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Elsevier Ltd

Keywords

  • Hominin biogeographic expansion
  • Hominin-carnivore interaction
  • Homo erectus
  • Meat-eating
  • Taphonomy

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