U-series dating and taphonomy of Quaternary vertebrates from Brazilian caves

Augusto S. Auler, Luís B. Piló, Peter L. Smart, Xianfeng Wang, Dirk Hoffmann, David A. Richards, R. Lawrence Edwards, Walter A. Neves, Hai Cheng

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137 Scopus citations


The geochronology and taphonomy of internationally important fossil bearing cave deposits were studied, both in the semi-arid Northern Bahia area and the subtropical southeastern Lagoa Santa area of Brazil. Taphonomic analysis suggests that the processes responsible for bone accumulation in the Brazilian caves vary between sites, and taphonomic bias can therefore be significant in causing differences in faunal composition. In the Toca da Boa Vista caves the presence of single articulated skeletons, and the entrance-related distribution indicate that random penetration of animals is the main mechanism of fossil accumulation, a process that biases the assemblage to smaller species, and takes place over extended time periods. In nearby Toca dos Ossos cave transport by runoff in the cave river is predominant, and biases the fauna remains to larger more robust bones and species. Deposition probably also occurred only at times of enhanced runoff giving a more contemporaneous assemblage. Similar processes were responsible for emplacement of the copious fossil remains in the more humid Lagoa Santa area, where terrigenous fossil deposits are found intercalated by massive speleothem calcite layers. In this area runoff under a drier climate probably accounts for the sediment emplacement inside caves. In both areas the mode of emplacement implies bias in the fossil record, resulting in fossil assemblages that do not mirror surface faunas, limiting palaeoenvironmental reconstruction. Mass spectrometric U-series analysis of speleothem calcite overlaying fossil remains gives minimum ages for fossil deposition. These ages confirm the previous view that many of the deposits derive from the late glacial, but also show that much older material (some > 350,000 yr) is also present. The habitat requirements of critical fossil species such as bats and monkeys strongly suggest that they derive from much wetter periods when forest cover was present in the currently semi-arid Northern Bahia area. Taphonomy exerts a major control on the diversity and mode of emplacement of cave fossil deposits in eastern Brazil and thus detailed sedimentological and hydrological studies coupled with a sound geochronological approach are essential in quantifying the relative importance of each taphonomic processes before faunal and palaeoecological interpretations can be attempted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)508-522
Number of pages15
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Oct 19 2006

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We acknowledge CNPq grants 200711/95-4, 540064/01-7 and 840059/95-4, FAPESP grants 99/00670-7 and 00/14917-3 and NSF grants 971203, 9809459 and 01116395. We thank the speleological assistance of Grupo Bambuí de Pesquisas Espeleológicas. Cave sampling was performed with the kind permission of IBAMA/CECAV.


  • Late Quaternary
  • Palaeoecology
  • Palaeontology
  • Speleothems
  • Taphonomy


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