Hominid butchers and biting crocodiles in the African Plio–Pleistocene

Bibliographic Collection: 
Publication Type: Journal Article
Authors: Sahle, Yonatan; El Zaatari, Sireen; White, Tim D.
Year of Publication: 2017
Journal: PNAS
Date Published: 2017/11/06
Publication Language: eng

Zooarchaeologists have long relied on linear traces and pits found on the surfaces of ancient bones to infer ancient hominid behaviors such as slicing, chopping, and percussive actions during butchery of mammal carcasses. However, such claims about Plio–Pleistocene hominids rely mostly on very small assemblages of bony remains. Furthermore, recent experiments on trampling animals and biting crocodiles have shown each to be capable of producing mimics of such marks. This equifinality—the creation of similar products by different processes—makes deciphering early archaeological bone assemblages difficult. Bone modifications among Ethiopian Plio–Pleistocene hominid and faunal remains at Asa Issie, Maka, Hadar, and Bouri were reassessed in light of these findings. The results show that crocodiles were important modifiers of these bone assemblages. The relative roles of hominids, mammalian carnivores, and crocodiles in the formation of Oldowan zooarchaeological assemblages will only be accurately revealed by better bounding equifinality. Critical analysis within a consilience-based approach is identified as the pathway forward. More experimental studies and increased archaeological fieldwork aimed at generating adequate samples are now required.

DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1716317114
Short Title: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences