Museum

TUKUL 4: Melka Kunture Archaeology

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Plio-Pleistocene Fauna

History of research

The first Plio-Pleistocene fossils from East Africa were reported by R. Bourg de Bozas at the beginning of the century and, even before World War II, the work of C. Arambourg in the Omo Valley and of L.S.B. Leakey at Olduvai revealed the richness of the region, later confirmed by the sites of Lake Turkana in Kenya, Laetoli in Tanzania, and the Awash Valley in Ethiopia, just to mention the most important ones.


Antelops and Suids from Omo


Sivatherium dinophelis from Omo

General features of the Fauna

These Plio-Pleistocene faunas include of course survivors from the preceding Miocene epoch; these components progressively vanished during the Plio-Pleistocene. These are for example the Mastodons (Anancus); the Dinotherium, leaf-eating Proboscidean, with downward curving tusks; the Ancylotherium, strange cousin of the Rhinoceros, with clawed paws; the saber-tooth tiger Homotherium; or the tridactyl Equid Hipparion which progressively gives way, during the Quaternary, to monodactyl Equids (zebras and asses of the genus Equus).


Skulls of Bovids from Omo

All these forms were also known in Europe and, as they become extinct, the more specifically African character of these biocenoses becomes prevalent, foreshadowing the modern faunas. Only the Rhinoceroses,   and, characterised by two horns and the loss of incisors, persisted up to the present time with little change. The roots of most of the typical representatives of the modern African fauna can be found at that time. The ancestor of the African elephant, Loxodonta africana, emerges in the Pliocene, together with a form close to the Asian elephant. Among the hippos, a group of species with 4 incisors, typical of Africa, splits from the group with 6 incisors, known from the Maghreb to Java. This new African group will make a brief appearance on the European continent.

The Suids are more diversified than today, with forms close to the present-day bush-pig and giant forest-hog (Kolpochoerus) or to the warthog (Metridiochoerus) being associated with representatives of extinct branches (Nyanzachoerus, Notochoerus). The diversity of the Mammalian fauna results mainly from that of Bovids. Besides the rare Camels, Giraffes are frequent, with at least two species of different size; their cousin, the Sivatherium, with its large size, short and massive limbs, large curved horns similar to those of both the buffalo and the moose, was one of the most noteworthy animals of that period. Among the Bovids, represented in Africa mainly by Antelopes and Buffaloes, the forms inherited from the Miocene become rare. The most common ones are Gazelles, again represented by a typical African form, Antidorcas, the Springbok, whose range is now limited to Southern Africa.

The Plio-Pleistocene epoch witnesses a fantastic radiation of African groups such as the Tragelaphini (Eland, Kudu, Nyala), the Reduncini (Waterbuck), the Hippotragini (Hippotragus and Oryx) and the Alcelaphini (Hartebeest and Wildebeest). It is not rare for a single site to yield 10 to 15 species of Bovids, or even more. Thus, the chronology of East African sites is mainly based on Mammalian biochronology, radiometric dating being used only at a later stage to fix chronological reference points.


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