Formation of mud clast breccias and the process of sedimentary autobrecciation in the hominin-bearing (Homo naledi) Rising Star Cave system, South Africa

Wiersma, Jelle P., Roberts, Eric M., and Dirks, Paul H. G. M. (2020) Formation of mud clast breccias and the process of sedimentary autobrecciation in the hominin-bearing (Homo naledi) Rising Star Cave system, South Africa. Sedimentology, 67 (2). pp. 897-919.

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Abstract

Unconsolidated mud clast breccia facies in the hominin-bearing (Homo naledi) Rising Star Cave, Cradle of Humankind, South Africa, are interpreted to have formed through a process termed sedimentary autobrecciation in this study. This process, by which most of the angular mud clast breccia deposits are thought to have formed autochthonously to para-autochthonously via a combination of erosion, desiccation, diagenesis and microbial alteration of laminated mud deposits, is thought to have taken place under relatively dry (i.e. non-flooded) conditions inside the cave. Subsequently, gravitational slumping and collapse was the dominant mechanism that produced the mud clast breccia deposits, which commonly accumulate into debris aprons. The mud clast breccia is typically associated with (micro) mammal fossils and is a common facies throughout the cave system, occurring in lithified and unlithified form. This facies has not been described from other cave localities in the Cradle of Humankind. Additionally, sedimentary autobrecciation took place during the deposition of some of the fossils within the Rising Star Cave, including the abundant Homo naledi skeletal remains found in the Dinaledi Subsystem. Reworking of the mud clast breccia deposits occurs in some chambers as they slump towards floor drains, resulting in the repositioning of fossils embedded in the breccias as evidenced by cross-cutting manganese staining lines on some Homo naledi fossil remains. The formation of the unlithified mud clast breccia deposits is a slow process, with first order formation rates estimated to be ca 8 x 10(-4) mm year(-1). The slow formation of the unlithified mud clast breccia facies sediments and lack of laminated mud facies within these deposits, indicates that conditions in the Dinaledi Chamber were probably stable and dry for at least the last ca 300 ka, meaning that this study excludes Homo naledi being actively transported by fluvial mechanisms during the time their remains entered the cave.

Item ID: 61142
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1365-3091
Keywords: Cave sedimentology, Homo naledi, mud clast breccia, Rising Star Cave, sedimentary autobrecciation
Copyright Information: © 2019 The Authors. Sedimentology © 2019 International Association of Sedimentologists.
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC), National Geographic Society, Lyda Hill Foundation, James Cook University, South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement
Projects and Grants: ARC Grant Number: DP140104282, JCU PRS Scholarship
Date Deposited: 04 Dec 2019 07:45
FoR Codes: 04 EARTH SCIENCES > 0403 Geology > 040310 Sedimentology @ 100%
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