The taphonomy of a micromammalian faunal assemblage from the Saldanha Bay Yacht Club : a contribution to the study of the South African west coast palaeoenvironments

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This thesis provides a broad outline of the effect of taphonomic and ecological processes on the accumulation and transformation of micromammalian faunal assemblages, and the importance of the signatures left behind by these processes in the reconstruction of ancient ecosystems. Micromammalian remains recovered from a rich Terminal Pleistocene site near the Saldanha Bay Yacht Club (SBYC) along the South African west coast have been examined following Andrews' (1990a) procedures. In the investigation of the effect of taphonomy on the SBYC faunal remains, murids (rodents) and soricids (shrews) have been examined separately and in as much detail as possible. The analyses have shown that the long bones of the soricids exhibit a relatively higher degree of completeness than those of the murids, suggesting preferential preservation of the former. Additionally, soricid jaws have yielded higher minimum number of individuals (MNIs) than long bone counts whereas for murids the opposite is the case. These observations have indicated the need for more taxonomically resolved analyses on the effect of taphonomic processes on micromammalian remains. Three micromammalian species represented in the SBYC faunal samples (Tatera afra, Myosorex varius and Suncus varilla) yielded much higher MNI counts than did other species. This reflects the intermediate selective behaviour of the inferred accumulator of the fauna, the barn owl, although the spotted eagle owl has not been completely ruled out. The study of the SBYC micromammalian fauna has underscored the need to integrate both taphonomic and ecological factors in the attempts to infer potential predators that might have been responsible for the accumulation of microanalytic occurrences. This is also necessary for understanding the environmental contexts in which the fauna was accumulated and/or derived. The micromammalian species represented at SBYC have suggested that in the SBYC area some 15,000 years ago, there was a mosaic of microhabitats including well-vegetated and moist microhabitats, and an admixture of bush and sandveld. Overall, climatic conditions in the SBYC area when the microfauna accumulated were moderate, and generally not different from the conditions prevailing today.

Bibliography: leaves 129-146.