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Tortoises as indicators of diet, site formation, and palaeoenvironments in the Middle Stone Age record of the Southern African coast

Author(s): Jordan Towers ; Jessica Thompson ; Christopher Henshilwood

Year: 2015

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Tortoises are one of the most common faunal components at many Middle Stone Age (MSA) sites on the southern coast of South Africa. They provide protein, fat, and other ‘animal’ resources in a ‘collectable’ package, which gives rare insight into the collected component of MSA diet. At most MSA sites, tortoise assemblages are dominated by Chersina angulata, a medium-sized tortoise with sufficient calories to provide approximately 20 – 30% of the daily energetic requirements for an active adult hunter-gatherer. C. angulata have distinct sexual dimorphism and allometric growth stages that allow past population structure and human predation patterns to be reconstructed quite specifically by pairing zooarchaeological and taphonomic data with data collected from tortoises killed in recent bushfires. Tortoise assemblages from Pinnacle Point Cave 13B and Blombos Cave show distinct differences in skeletal element abundances, taxonomic composition, and bone surface modification. This indicates differences in human and non-human predation patterns, although processing sequences were likely similar. The distinct ecologies and sizes of the tortoise species found at each site also highlight potential differences in palaeoenvironmental conditions.

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Tortoises as indicators of diet, site formation, and palaeoenvironments in the Middle Stone Age record of the Southern African coast. Jessica Thompson, Jordan Towers, Christopher Henshilwood. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 396806)


Diet MSA Tortoise

Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: -18.809; min lat: -38.823 ; max long: 53.262; max lat: 38.823 ;

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America