Special Issue "Taphonomy and Palaeoecology of Quaternary Vertebrates: Advances in Fossil and Experimental Studies"

A special issue of Quaternary (ISSN 2571-550X).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (20 September 2021).

Special Issue Editors

Dr. Juan Rofes
E-Mail Website1 Website2
Guest Editor
1. Archaeological Studies Program, University of the Philippines, -Diliman, Quezon City 1101, Philippines
2. Archéozoologie, Archéobotanique: Sociétés, Pratiques et Environnements (AASPE, UMR 7209), Sorbonne Universités, Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, CNRS, 57 Rue Cuvier, 75005 Paris, France
Interests: zooarchaeology; small mammals; palaeoenvironmental reconstructions; biogeograhical analysis; systematics and evolution; geometric morphometrics; interactions between environmental change and human activity
Dr. Janine Ochoa
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Anthropology, University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City 1101, Philippines
Interests: zooarchaeology; island biogeography; systematics; anthropogenic impacts; extinctions; palaeoenvironmental change; ecological knowledge systems
Dr. Emmanuelle Stoetzel
E-Mail Website1 Website2
Guest Editor
Histoire Naturelle de l’Homme Préhistorique - UMR 7194, CNRS, Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, Sorbonne Universités, UPVD, Paris, France
Interests: systematics; evolution; taphonomy and paleoecology of quaternary microvertebrates (North Africa, Western Europe, Middle-East); neo-taphonomic and osteological referentials

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Taphonomic studies allow for a better understanding of the processes of formation and preservation of fossil assemblages, and the identification of biases that can alter the palaeoenvironmental interpretations deduced from faunal lists. A taphonomic analysis of a fossil assemblage is, therefore, an essential prerequisite for subsequent palaeoecological studies. Palaeoecology, in turn, uses data from fossils to examine how organisms and their environments change throughout time. By studying patterns of evolution and extinction in the context of environmental change, palaeoecologists are able to examine concepts of vulnerability and resilience in species and environments at different geographic and temporal scales. The Quaternary period is well represented in geographically extensive and high-temporal-resolution records, and is of particular interest to human evolution. Vertebrate assemblages, whether accumulated by humans or non-human agents, are frequently well preserved in Quaternary palaeontological and archaeological deposits, especially in caves. In recent years, the number of and methods for taphonomic and palaeoecological analyses on Quaternary vertebrate assemblages have greatly developed, and we would like to highlight here some works illustrating these advances by encouraging contributions from (but not restricted to) palaeontology, zooarchaeology, palaeoanthropology, palaeoclimatology, and paleoenvironmental studies. Implementation of modern taphonomic referentials and experiments are key to the adequate interpretation of fossil assemblages, so papers focusing on these topics are also welcome.

Dr. Juan Rofes
Dr. Janine Ochoa
Dr. Emmanuelle Stoetzel
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

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Keywords

  • vertebrates
  • quaternary
  • taphonomy
  • modern referentials
  • experimental studies
  • palaeoecology
  • palaeoenvironmental studies.

Published Papers (8 papers)

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Research

Article
Who Killed the Small Mammals of Ittenheim (Northeastern France)? An Integrative Approach and New Taphonomic Data for Investigating Bone Assemblages Accumulated by Small Carnivores
Quaternary 2021, 4(4), 41; https://doi.org/10.3390/quat4040041 - 22 Nov 2021
Viewed by 396
Abstract
Small carnivores are susceptible to regularly accumulating small- to medium-sized mammal remains in both natural and archaeological sites. However, compared to nocturnal birds of prey, these accumulations are still poorly documented and are generally based on a limited number of samples, including those [...] Read more.
Small carnivores are susceptible to regularly accumulating small- to medium-sized mammal remains in both natural and archaeological sites. However, compared to nocturnal birds of prey, these accumulations are still poorly documented and are generally based on a limited number of samples, including those of relatively small size. Here, we present an analysis of European hamster remains from a rescue excavation at Ittenheim (Bas-Rhin, Grand-Est, France), which were recovered from an infilled burrow, three meters below the current surface. The remains are well preserved and exhibit large proportions of tooth marks. Comparisons with a new and existing reference collection combined with an analysis of all recovered faunal remains suggest the accumulation reflects the action of young red foxes. This is supported by the fact that, although these young individuals leave teeth mark, they do not necessarily consume all parts of medium-sized prey species, including the European hamster. Conversely, the remains of smaller rodents, such as microtine, show distinct patterns of digestion and tooth marks. Carnivore bone accumulations from scats are generally poorly preserved; however, our results demonstrate prey size plays a major role, both qualitatively and quantitatively, in skeletal representation, bone preservation, and bone surface modifications. The present paper underlines the need for more diversified taphonomic reference collections based on an integrative approach designed to evaluate multi-taxa accumulations. Full article
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Article
Multi-Taxa Neo-Taphonomic Analysis of Bone Remains from Barn Owl Pellets and Cross-Validation of Observations: A Case Study from Dominica (Lesser Antilles)
Quaternary 2021, 4(4), 38; https://doi.org/10.3390/quat4040038 - 18 Nov 2021
Viewed by 347
Abstract
Paleo- and neo-taphonomic analyses of bone assemblages rarely consider all the occurring taxa in a single study and works concerning birds of prey as accumulators of microvertebrate bone remains mostly focus on small mammals such as rodents and soricomorphs. However, raptors often hunt [...] Read more.
Paleo- and neo-taphonomic analyses of bone assemblages rarely consider all the occurring taxa in a single study and works concerning birds of prey as accumulators of microvertebrate bone remains mostly focus on small mammals such as rodents and soricomorphs. However, raptors often hunt and consume a large range of taxa, including vertebrates such as small mammals, fishes, amphibians, squamates and birds. Bone remains of all these taxonomic groups are numerous in many paleontological and archaeological records, especially in cave deposits. To better characterize the predators at the origin of fossil and sub-fossil microvertebrate accumulations and the taphonomic history of the deposit, it is thus mandatory to conduct global and multi-taxa taphonomic approaches. The aim of this study is to provide an example of such a global approach through the investigation of a modern bone assemblage from a sample of pellets produced by the Lesser Antillean Barn Owl (Tyto insularis) in the island of Dominica. We propose a new methodology that allows us to compare different taxa (rodents, bats, squamates and birds) and to experiment with a cross-validation process using two observers for each taxonomic group to test the reliability of the taphonomic observations. Full article
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Article
San Josecito Cave and Its Paleoecological Contributions for Quaternary Studies in Mexico
Quaternary 2021, 4(4), 34; https://doi.org/10.3390/quat4040034 - 26 Oct 2021
Viewed by 697
Abstract
San Josecito Cave (2250 m elevation) is located nearby Aramberri, Nuevo León, northeastern Mexico, with excavations occurring in 1935–1941 and 1990. It is a paleontological cave and the significance of its faunal data rests in the understanding of the Quaternary ecosystems of the [...] Read more.
San Josecito Cave (2250 m elevation) is located nearby Aramberri, Nuevo León, northeastern Mexico, with excavations occurring in 1935–1941 and 1990. It is a paleontological cave and the significance of its faunal data rests in the understanding of the Quaternary ecosystems of the Mexican Plateau and the Southern Plains. This significance is underpinned by a consideration of associated stratigraphic and geochronological data. The fauna is composed of mollusks, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. More than 30 extinct vertebrate species have been identified, constituting one of the most important Quaternary localities in the Americas. Radiocarbon dates and faunal correlations indicate the excavated deposits represent an interval of time between 45,000 and 11,000 14C years BP. The current synthesis demonstrates that the previous view of the assemblage as a single local fauna is erroneous and that, instead, several successive local faunas are present within a stratigraphic framework. This finding underscores the need for detailed studies of single localities in building paleoenvironmental models. As a corollary, results point to the necessity of including all vertebrate classes represented from a locality in building those models. In addition, the field and analytical methodologies demonstrate the importance of very detailed paleontological excavations, with precise spatial and temporal controls, to assess the taphonomic history of a locality, construct a stratigraphic and geochronological framework, and infer the paleoecological conditions during the time span considered based on the number of local faunas represented. The recognition of San Josecito Cave as an important Late Pleistocene vertebrate paleontological locality is enhanced with the consideration of its faunal data for paleoenvironment reconstruction and possible contribution to Quaternary paleoclimatic modeling. Full article
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Article
The Potential of Micromammals for the Stratigraphy and the Timing of Human Occupations at La Roche-à-Pierrot (Saint-Césaire, France)
Quaternary 2021, 4(4), 33; https://doi.org/10.3390/quat4040033 - 21 Oct 2021
Viewed by 579
Abstract
As micromammals are highly sensitive to changes in their habitat, variations in species representation are often used to reconstruct local environmental conditions. However, taphonomic aspects of micromammals are often overlooked, despite the fact that they can provide important information for our understanding of [...] Read more.
As micromammals are highly sensitive to changes in their habitat, variations in species representation are often used to reconstruct local environmental conditions. However, taphonomic aspects of micromammals are often overlooked, despite the fact that they can provide important information for our understanding of archaeological sites. La Roche-à-Pierrot, Saint-Césaire, is a major archaeological site for our understanding of the Middle-to-Upper Palaeolithic transition in Western Europe. Clearly documenting site formation processes, the post-depositional reworking of deposits and the sequence of human occupations is fundamental for providing a secure archaeostratigraphic context of the site. The exceptionally large accumulation of micromammals from recently excavated stratigraphic units at the site makes it possible to track variations in the density of micromammals across the stratigraphic sequence. The taphonomic analysis of micromammals demonstrates these variations are not related to a change in the main accumulation agent or post-depositional phenomena. A negative correlation between small mammal remains and archaeological material suggests that peaks in micromammal densities can potentially be correlated with periods when the site was abandoned or when human occupation was less intense, and therefore provide new data for interpreting the Saint-Césaire stratigraphic sequence. Full article
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Article
The Stegodon Bonebed of the Middle Pleistocene Archaeological Site Mata Menge (Flores, Indonesia): Taphonomic Agents in Site Formation
Quaternary 2021, 4(4), 31; https://doi.org/10.3390/quat4040031 - 29 Sep 2021
Viewed by 670
Abstract
The Middle Pleistocene fluvial channel site of the Upper Fossil-bearing Interval at Mata Menge in the So’a Basin, Flores, Indonesia, has yielded the earliest fossil evidence for Homo floresiensis in association with stone artefacts and fossils of highly endemic insular fauna, including Stegodon [...] Read more.
The Middle Pleistocene fluvial channel site of the Upper Fossil-bearing Interval at Mata Menge in the So’a Basin, Flores, Indonesia, has yielded the earliest fossil evidence for Homo floresiensis in association with stone artefacts and fossils of highly endemic insular fauna, including Stegodon, giant rats, crocodiles, Komodo dragons, and various birds. A preliminary taphonomic review of the fossil material here aimed to provide additional context for the hominin remains in this bonebed. Analysis was performed on two subsets of material from the same fluvial sandstone layer. Subset 1 comprised all material from two adjacent one-metre square quadrants (n = 91), and Subset 2 all Stegodon long limb bones excavated from the same layer (n = 17). Key analytical parameters included species and skeletal element identification; fossil size measurements and fragmentation; weathering stages; bone fracture characteristics; and other biological and geological bone surface modifications. Analysis of Subset 1 material identified a highly fragmented assemblage with a significant bias towards Stegodon. A large portion of these bones were likely fractured by trampling prior to entering the fluvial channel and were transported away from the death-site, undergoing surface modification causing rounding. Subset 2 material was less likely to have been transported far based on its limited susceptibility to fluvial transport. There was no significant difference in weathering for the long limb bones and fragments, with the highest portion exhibiting Stage 2 weathering, indicating that prior to final burial, all material was exposed to prolonged periods of surface exposure. Approximately 10% of all material have characteristics of fracturing on fresh bone, contributing to the taphonomic context for this bonebed; however insufficient evidence was found for anthropogenic modification. Full article
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Article
Unravelling the Taphonomic Stories of Bird Bones from the Middle Pleistocene Layer VIII of Grotte Vaufrey, France
Quaternary 2021, 4(4), 30; https://doi.org/10.3390/quat4040030 - 28 Sep 2021
Viewed by 1037
Abstract
In recent years, several studies have significantly changed our knowledge concerning the use of birds by Neanderthals. However, what remains to be clarified is the geographical and chronological variability of this human behaviour. The present case study provides new information on this topic/debate. [...] Read more.
In recent years, several studies have significantly changed our knowledge concerning the use of birds by Neanderthals. However, what remains to be clarified is the geographical and chronological variability of this human behaviour. The present case study provides new information on this topic/debate. The Grotte Vaufrey was discovered during the 1930s and was excavated during different periods. Work carried out by J.-P. Rigaud during the 1980s motivated many multidisciplinary studies in the cave, but accurate studies were not focused on avian remains. In this work, we provide new data on the bird remains from layer VIII (MIS 7), which is the richest among all the sequences and which has an important Mousterian component. Corvids are predominant in the assemblage and are associated with medium-sized birds and small Passeriformes, among others. Most of the remains present modern fractures, which hinder taphonomic interpretation. However, some alterations associated with raptor or mammalian carnivore activities, together with the anatomical representation and age profile, suggest a non-human accumulation of the majority of the bird remains, especially in the case of corvids that naturally died in the cave. However, at least some bones show evidence of anthropic activity, suggesting the occasional use of large- and medium-sized birds by human populations. Full article
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Article
Middle Pleistocene Variations in the Diet of Equus in the South of France and Its Morphometric Adaptations to Local Environments
Quaternary 2021, 4(3), 23; https://doi.org/10.3390/quat4030023 - 26 Jul 2021
Viewed by 1258
Abstract
Equus is a very sensitive genus which has expanded over a large area and lived in Europe despite the climatic instability of the Pleistocene. Its persistence and abundance are helpful in understanding and describing environmental and climatic regional parameters. In this study, we [...] Read more.
Equus is a very sensitive genus which has expanded over a large area and lived in Europe despite the climatic instability of the Pleistocene. Its persistence and abundance are helpful in understanding and describing environmental and climatic regional parameters. In this study, we present the result of dental mesowear and microwear analysis and post-cranial skeleton biometry on Equus populations located in two regions in the South of France from ten sites, corresponding to twelve assemblages dated from MIS 12 to MIS 5. The areas refer to two major climatic zones: the oceanic or subcontinental climate for the South West of France, and the Mediterranean for the South East. The first objective of this study is to integrate and compare biometric data, dental wear, and other already-published environmental proxies. The goal is to discuss the validity of horse body shape adaptations on a small geographical scale. The second objective is to describe the impact of environmental features on the horse population through time in the two regions. We observe that the Equus diet was quite diverse, according to microwear analysis which shows adaptations according to seasonal variations. However, they remained mostly grazers over a long period of time. Estimated body mass of Equus in the localities studied here varies from a mean of 468 up to a mean of 570 kg, but these variations failed to be correlated with the diet, the climatic period, or the geographical position of the horse population, probably because of the sample size or the restricted time-span or geographical scale. However, the conformation of the metapodials and the width of the third phalanges may have been linked with environmental and behavioural parameters. The width of the third phalange may be correlated with the recurrence of the snow cover, while the robustness of the metapodial co-occurs with a humid climate. Also, diet may influence the conformation of the bones, since the tall and slender horses seem to be preferentially grazers all year long and seasonally browser horses are tall and robust. Seasonally mixed-feeder horses, all coming from the Mediterranean area, were found to be smaller, perhaps in relation to a less productive environment. The correspondence of the dietary and morphometrical data could suggest high pressure on the horse population, which caused rapid body adaptation. Thus, the combination of these different proxies allows us to suggest more accurate large mammal paleoenvironmental reconstructions. Full article
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Article
Human Activities, Biostratigraphy and Past Environment Revealed by Small-Mammal Associations at the Chalcolithic Levels of El Portalón de Cueva Mayor (Atapuerca, Spain)
Quaternary 2021, 4(2), 16; https://doi.org/10.3390/quat4020016 - 14 May 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1397
Abstract
The Chalcolithic levels of El Portalón de Cueva Mayor (Atapuerca, Burgos, Spain) offer a good opportunity to test whether the small-mammal contents of different archaeo-stratigraphical units may be useful to characterize them as independent entities. With that purpose, we studied representative samples of [...] Read more.
The Chalcolithic levels of El Portalón de Cueva Mayor (Atapuerca, Burgos, Spain) offer a good opportunity to test whether the small-mammal contents of different archaeo-stratigraphical units may be useful to characterize them as independent entities. With that purpose, we studied representative samples of small-mammal remains from the two main contexts identified: the Early Chalcolithic (EC) funerary context and the Late Chalcolithic (LC) habitat/stabling context, with the latter comprising three different archaeological units according to their origin, namely prepared floors, activity floors and stabling surfaces or fumiers. Following the distribution of taxa in their respective contexts, we performed several statistical tests to check for significant discrepancies between archaeological units. The exclusive presence of certain taxa, together with the statistical difference in relative taxonomic ratios, points to the integrity and unpolluted condition of the EC context. The interspersed arrangement of the different LC context’s units made them prone to inter-pollution as they are not statistically different. The unexpected presence of Pliomys lenki and Chionomys nivalis in the prepared floors evidences their Upper Pleistocene allochthonous origin. The EC levels of El Portalón contribute the first Holocene records of nine taxa in the Sierra de Atapuerca. An environment dominated by woodland, shrubland and wet meadows, with moderate presence of grassland, inland wetlands and rocky areas, is inferred from the small-mammal association of the EC levels. Full article
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