Small mammal utilization by Middle Stone Age humans at Die Kelders Cave 1 and Pinnacle Point Site 5-6, Western Cape Province, South Africa

Aaron Armstrong

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8 Scopus citations


Reported here are the results of a taphonomic analysis of the small mammals (between 0.75 kg and 4.5 kg adult body weight) and size 1 bovids (≤20 kg adult body weight) from the Middle Stone Age (MSA) sites of Die Kelders Cave 1 (DK1) and Pinnacle Point Site 5-6 (PP5-6), Western Cape Province, South Africa. This study provides a comprehensive taphonomic analysis of MSA small mammals with a focus on discerning the role of humans in their accumulation and the implications for human behavioral adaptations. Based on comparisons with control assemblages of known accumulation, it is evident that humans accumulated many of the Cape dune mole-rats, hares, and size 1 bovids at DK1. The patterning of cut-marked and burned mole-rat remains at DK1 provides evidence in the MSA for the systematic utilization of small mammals for their skins and as a protein source. Unlike DK1, small mammals and size 1 bovids constitute only a small portion of the PP5-6 mammals and they exhibit little evidence of human accumulation. Nocturnal and diurnal raptors accumulated most of the small fauna at PP5-6. The nominal presence of small mammals in the PP5-6 fauna is atypical of MSA sites in the Cape Floristic Region, where they are abundant and often constitute large portions of MSA archaeofaunas. DK1 humans maximized the environmental yield by exploiting low-quality resources, a strategy employed possibly in response to localized environmental conditions and to greater human population densities. In comparison, the MIS5-4 humans at PP5-6 did not exploit small mammals and instead focused on higher-quality resources like shellfish and large ungulates. Humans and predators accumulated few small mammals at PP5-6, suggesting that these taxa may have been less abundant near the site and/or that humans could afford to concentrate on high-quality resources, perhaps because of a higher-yield local environment. This study suggests that an adaptive response to the environmental conditions of MIS4 was to maximize the resource yield of local habitats to include lower-quality resources when necessary. The incorporation of these resources in the face of changing environmental and perhaps population pressures is a subsistence adaptation that played a crucial role in the population stability and expansion evidenced by the number of sites in the Cape dating to MIS4.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-44
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I thank Graham Avery and Curtis Marean for allowing access to the DK1 and PP5-6 collections, addressing inquiries regarding the collections, and for providing excellent comments and critiques of an earlier version of this manuscript. I also thank these individuals and institutions: the Iziko Museums of South Africa and the curators of the Archaeology, Cenozoic Studies, Entomology, and Comparative Osteology for facilitating access to the DK1 and osteological collections as well as providing laboratory space and access to microscopy imaging equipment; I'd say members of the Electron Microscope Unit at the University of Cape Town for use of their SEM; the Pinnacle Point team at the Diaz Museum in Mossel Bay for facilitating access to the PP5-6 collection and providing laboratory space; Simone Brunton and Ross Lyall-Jennings who helped clean, identify, and sort portions of the DK1 assemblage, Lorena Duarte did the same for the PP5-6 assemblage; and Martha Tappen and Reed Coil provided helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. I thank John Yellen and Alison Brooks for providing access to the Dobe Base Camps collections and for providing laboratory space to study the collection. Thanks to three anonymous reviewers and Tyler Faith for their critiques and helpful comments that improved this manuscript. Research funding was provided by the National Science Foundation through Dissertation Improvement Grant #1102284 and by the Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship , I gratefully acknowledge the support of these institutions.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier Ltd


  • Die Kelders Cave 1
  • Middle Stone Age
  • Modern human behavior
  • Pinnacle Point Site 5-6
  • Small mammal utilization
  • Taphonomy

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