Magazine article Science News

Hominid 'Caches' Get Bone-Wear Boost

Magazine article Science News

Hominid 'Caches' Get Bone-Wear Boost

Article excerpt

Hominid 'caches' get bone-wear boost

As scientists learn more about the formation of archaeological sites thought to have been used by early human ancestors, or hominids, the behavior of our ancient forebears becomes, paradoxically, less clear.

A good example is a new study by anthropologist Richard Potts of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. After conducting the first analysis of bone weathering among animal remains at hominid sites, he reports that human ancestors transported the bones over a period of at least five to 10 years to several sites in Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, dated at between 1.70 million and 1.85 million years old. Although hominids returned to the sites over a number of years, says Potts, investigators have no clear notion of how often meat was eaten at these spots, whether food sharing or other social activity took place and what proportion of bones were the result of hunting as opposed to scavenging.

The finding, published in the winter PALEOBIOLOGY, does support Potts's "stone-cache hypothesis," which holds that stone tools were kept at the Olduvai sites where foods were taken to be cut up or otherwise processed. The sites were frequented by various carnivores Potts, so hominids kept their visits brief. In contrast, he points out, modern hunter-gatherers typically occupy campsites or "home bases" for up to several months before moving on to another camp.

The stage was set for Potts to elaborate on the stone-cache hypothesis in 1978, when Anna K. Behrensmeyer of the Smithsonian Institution described progressive stages of decomposition due to weathering in the bones of large mammals found in East African savannas. These savannas, says Potts, are excellent mirrors of ancient conditions at Olduvai. Each stage was linked to open-air exposures of up to 15 years; by that time, bones tend to disintegrate if they are not buried. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.