Habitat-related variation in Oldowan prey acquisition: Comparison of Kanjera South and FLK-Zinj

Thomas Plummer1, James S. Oliver2, Laura C. Bishop3, Fritz Hertel4

  1. Department of Anthropology, Queens College, the CUNY Graduate Center, and NYCEP, NY, USA; Thomas.Plummer@qc.cuny.edu
  2. Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum, Department of Geosciences, Pennsylvania State University, USA;
  3. Research Centre for Evolutionary Anthropology and Palaeoecology, School of Natural Sciences and Psychology, 4Liverpool John Moores University, UK;
  4. Department of Biology, California State University, Northridge, USA;


Oldowan hominins used habitats ranging from open grasslands to riparian forest by about 2 million years ago (Ma). However, paleoanthropologists have a poor understanding of the variability in hominin foraging behavior in different environmental settings. Here we compare bovid mortality profiles from the two largest Oldowan zooarchaeological samples: the ca. 2 million-year-old Excavation 1 assemblage from Kanjera South, Kenya which formed in a grassland, and the 1.84 Ma FLK-Zinj assemblage from Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania which formed in a woodland. Taphonomic analyses of both assemblages indicate that they were primarily accumulated through hominin activity. Comparison of bovid mortality patterns from these sites suggests considerable plasticity in Oldowan carcass acquisition strategies. Kanjera hominins had early access, likely through hunting, to small (size 1 and 2) frequently juvenile bovids. Small bovids acquired by FLK-Zinj hominins may also have been hunted, but were predominantly old (Bunn and Pickering, 2010; Bunn and Gurtov, 2014). Kanjera hominins had mixed access to large (size 3 and 4) often juvenile bovids, and frequently scavenged heads, whereas FLK-Zinj hominins had early access to more prime adult large bovid carcasses, probably acquired through hunting and aggressive scavenging. Variation in acquisition behavior and mortality profiles between these assemblages may signal the differing challenges of acquiring fauna in open versus closed habitats with a simple hunting toolkit. The grassland habitat at Kanjera South provided less cover for hominin hunters. Their frequent acquisition of juveniles may reflect the relative ease of capture of young prey through pursuit hunting or the discovery of hidden fawns. The woodland habitat at FLK Zinj, on the other hand, provided opportunities for hominins to ambush prey, and consequently acquire more adults. Analyses of carcass acquisition behaviors and bovid mortality profiles from these two assemblages suggest plasticity in the foraging ecology of early Homo.

Subject Communication
Language of text English
Topics AFR.001: Recent Advances in Early Stone Age Studies in Africa, New Insights on the Oldowan and the Acheulian Stone Technology
Keywords Oldowan; Kanjera; FLK-Zinj; bovid mortality;
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