Reconstruction of the burial position of two hominin skeletons (Australopithecus sediba) from the early Pleistocene Malapa cave site, South Africa

Val, Aurore, Backwell, Lucinda R., Dirks, Paul H.G.M., d'Errico, Francesco, and Berger, Lee R. (2018) Reconstruction of the burial position of two hominin skeletons (Australopithecus sediba) from the early Pleistocene Malapa cave site, South Africa. Geoarchaeology, 33 (3). pp. 291-306.

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Abstract

The Malapa site has yielded unusually abundant and well preserved fossils of Australopithecus sediba. While some elements were found in situ during excavation, others were recovered ex situ from blocks of clastic, calcified sediments collected around the site. We have refitted the ex situ elements from Facies D, the sedimentary unit represented by a single debris flow from which most of the Au. sediba remainswere collected, with the elements recovered in situ. Results confirm that the fossils in this unit can securely be attributed to two near-complete skeletons of a juvenile male (MH1), which initially lay in the upper, laminated part of Facies D, and an adult female (MH2), deposited in the lower part of this facies. We propose a description of peri- and postmortem events based on the location and orientation of the fossils, using for the first time a 3D reconstruction of the postulated position in which the two hominins were deposited. Macro- and microscopic modifications of bone surfaces, and degree of preservation confirm that the individuals were washed into the deposit as articulated—or semi-articulated—complete bodies, which were subaerially exposed for some time, and had reached natural mummification before being deposited within a debris flow.

Item ID: 52692
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1520-6548
Keywords: cave taphonomy, Cradle of Humankind, depositional processes, early hominins, virtual imaging techniques
Funders: National Geographic Society, National Research Foundation (NRF), South Africa, Gauteng Provincial Government, Carstens Trust, University of Witwatersrand, Australian Research Council (ARC), Agence Nationale de la Recherche, France (ANR)
Projects and Grants: ARC DP140104282, ANR ANR-10-LABX-52
Date Deposited: 26 Feb 2018 23:50
FoR Codes: 04 EARTH SCIENCES > 0403 Geology > 040308 Palaeontology (incl Palynology) @ 70%
21 HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 2101 Archaeology > 210103 Archaeology of Asia, Africa and the Americas @ 30%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970121 Expanding Knowledge in History and Archaeology @ 100%
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