Museum

TUKUL 4: Melka Kunture Archaeology

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Fauna from Melka Kunture

 

Hippopotamus canine

The sites of Melka Kunture are living floors where faunal remains have been introduced by Hominids. This human activity had two major consequences: 1) a heavy fragmentation of all bones, which makes their determination difficult; 2) the introduction of a human choice that selected, from the whole mammalian fauna, the species that could be used for food or other purposes.  In spite of these difficulties, the fauna of Melka Kunture makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the paleoecology of the various sites.

 

Fauna from Gombore I and Garba IV

 

Hippopotamus canine

The richest sites are Gombore I and mainly Garba IV. Hippopotamus and Bovids are especially frequent. Other mammals are very rare (Primates, Elephants, Equids, Suids), or completely absent (Rhinoceros).  Besides Hominid remains, the only primate present is the gelada baboon (Theropithecus). Among the Rodents, Tachyoryctes is dominant.

This is a fossorial prairie species, which indicates the presence of soft soil. All other species are very rare. The Elephants are represented by one tooth and a few bone remains. The Equids are mainly represented at Gombore I and Garba IV by a species of Equus with robust metapodials, which indicates a wet environment, and at Gombore II, where Hipparion still persists, by a form close to Equus mauritanicus (a species defined at Tighenif in Algeria).


Antelope horn


Hippopotamus mandible

With the exception of a tooth of dwarf hippopotamus at Gombore Iγ, all hippo remains are close to the modern Hippopotamus amphibius. Among the Giraffes, Sivatherium is known with certainty only at Gombore Iγ, while a large Giraffa sp. is present at Gombore I, Garba IV and Garba III. Among the Bovids, the buffaloes (Bovini) are represented by two species of the genus Pelorovis. The first species at Simbiro III is the classical one from Olduvai, P. oldowayensis, with very long forward curving horns (with a span of up to two meters); the other, P. turkanensis, with shorter horns, is present at Garba IV and Simbiro III. The same species was later recovered also at Koobi Fora (especially in the KBS Member), and it is probably present also in North Africa at Aïn Hanech. The Tragelaphini, which indicate a relatively closed environment, are completely absent from Melka Kunture. The Reduncini, which live in open but wet, if not marshy, environment, are too rare to be precisely identified (Gombore II, Gombore Iγ and Garba IV), although they are probably small waterbucks. Only one tooth from Gombore Iγ may be attributed to an oryx or to some similar form (Hippotragus), while forms suggesting an open and dry environment, Antilopini and Alcelaphini, are well represented. In the first group, a gazelle of a probably extinct species, present at Gombore Iγ and Garba IV, is more reminiscent of the forms recovered at Olduvai and Aïn Hanech, than the modern species in the region. Some Springbok horns (Antidorcas) have been recovered as surface finds and this genus, frequent in the fossil assemblages of East Africa, may have been present in the upper part of the Melka Kunture sequence. The Alcelaphini are the dominant group, both in terms of number of individuals and number of species (at least five), and most of the Bovid remains can be allocated to that group. The wildebeest, Connochaetes taurinus, is documented from Gombore II onwards, but in the earlier sites of Simbiro III and especially Garba IV, there is a form typical of Melka Kunture, which recalls the C. gentryi of Olduvai and Koobi Fora, but with very long slender horns. Alcelaphine horns, very fragile, are usually badly preserved, and their frequency at Garba IV is surprisingly high: it may be that their particular shape prompted Hominids to use them. A Damaliscus, with horns that are more spirally twisted than is usual for this genus, close to D. agelaius of Olduvai, is one of the rare forms known at both Gombore I and Garba IV, while a more classical species, close to D. niro, is also present at Gombore I. Finally, in the site of Garba XII, a single horn can be referred to a pan-African, although rare, genus, Rabaticeras, which could be the ancestor of the hartebeest. On the whole, the fauna of Melka Kunture documents an open environment, as indicated also by the pollen associations among which the grass species are always dominant, although there may be periods, such as the beginning of the Middle Pleistocene, when the mountain forest was not very distant.

Fauna from other sites

 

Horse mandible

With the exception of a tooth of dwarf hippopotamus at Gombore Iγ, all hippo remains are close to the modern Hippopotamus amphibius. Among the Giraffes, Sivatherium is known with certainty only at Gombore Iγ, while a large Giraffa sp. is present at Gombore I, Garba IV and Garba III. Among the Bovids, the buffaloes (Bovini) are represented by two species of the genus Pelorovis. The first species at Simbiro III is the classical one from Olduvai, P. oldowayensis, with very long forward curving horns (with a span of up to two meters); the other, P. turkanensis, with shorter horns, is present at Garba IV and Simbiro III.

he same species was later recovered also at Koobi Fora (especially in the KBS Member), and it is probably present also in North Africa at Aïn Hanech. The Tragelaphini, which indicate a relatively closed environment, are completely absent from Melka Kunture. The Reduncini, which live in open but wet, if not marshy, environment, are too rare to be precisely identified (Gombore II, Gombore Iγ and Garba IV), although they are probably small waterbucks. Only one tooth from Gombore Iγ may be attributed to an oryx or to some similar form (Hippotragus), while forms suggesting an open and dry environment, Antilopini and Alcelaphini, are well represented.

In the first group, a gazelle of a probably extinct species, present at Gombore Iγ and Garba IV, is more reminiscent of the forms recovered at Olduvai and Aïn Hanech, than the modern species in the region. Some Springbok horns (Antidorcas) have been recovered as surface finds and this genus, frequent in the fossil assemblages of East Africa, may have been present in the upper part of the Melka Kunture sequence. The Alcelaphini are the dominant group, both in terms of number of individuals and number of species (at least five), and most of the Bovid remains can be allocated to that group.
Antelope mandible

The wildebeest, Connochaetes taurinus, is documented from Gombore II onwards, but in the earlier sites of Simbiro III and especially Garba IV, there is a form typical of Melka Kunture, which recalls the C. gentryi of Olduvai and Koobi Fora, but with very long slender horns. Alcelaphine horns, very fragile, are usually badly preserved, and their frequency at Garba IV is surprisingly high: it may be that their particular shape prompted Hominids to use them. A Damaliscus, with horns that are more spirally twisted than is usual for this genus, close to D. agelaius of Olduvai, is one of the rare forms known at both Gombore I and Garba IV, while a more classical species, close to D. niro, is also present at Gombore I. Finally, in the site of Garba XII, a single horn can be referred to a pan-African, although rare, genus, Rabaticeras, which could be the ancestor of the hartebeest. On the whole, the fauna of Melka Kunture documents an open environment, as indicated also by the pollen associations among which the grass species are always dominant, although there may be periods, such as the beginning of the Middle Pleistocene, when the mountain forest was not very distant.


Bovid horn


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