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Assessing the distribution of African Palaeolithic sites : a predictive model of collagen degradation.

Holmes, K. M. and Brown, K. A. R. and Oates, W. P. and Collins, M. J. (2005) 'Assessing the distribution of African Palaeolithic sites : a predictive model of collagen degradation.', Journal of archaeological science., 32 (2). pp. 157-166.


In order to assess the distribution of African Palaeolithic sites and hominin remains, we need an understanding of the factors that may affect the preservation of archaeological material in the fossil record. One of the main factors that is thought to affect seriously the global distribution of fossil remains is taphonomy, but it would seem that taphonomic processes may themselves be overprinted by collagen degradation. The rate of collagen loss is highly temperature dependent, and it has been shown that bone is more likely to be preserved in areas of lower temperature and so lower collagen loss. Hence, it would be expected that fossil fauna remains would be distributed in areas of low collagen loss, i.e. low temperature. Conversely, lithics will not be subject to a temperature bias in their preservation. We have tested this hypothesis through the use of archaeological material. Our results show that the distributions of both lithic and faunal assemblages are non-random across the African continent, with all archaeological sites being found in areas of relatively low collagen degradation. This implies that bone collagen degradation is not the only factor affecting the distribution of African Palaeolithic sites and hominin remains. We suggest that the site distribution is not a reflection of bias in excavation history, but is a real phenomenon reflecting hominin habitat choice.

Item Type:Article
Keywords:Africa, Collagen degradation, Cave sites, Open sites, Lithic, Fauna, Hominin.
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Record Created:06 Feb 2009
Last Modified:02 Jun 2016 15:54

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