Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Thomas Plummer

Committee Members

Eric Delson

William Harcourt-Smith

David Braun

Subject Categories

Biological and Physical Anthropology


Paleoenvironment, Acheuelan, Zooarchaeology, Africa, Ecomorphology, 3D Geometric Morphometrics


Increased consumption of animal tissue is arguably one of the most important adaptive transitions in early hominin behavior. A dietary shift toward regular tool-assisted meat consumption and increased competition with the carnivore paleoguild likely helped shape many important hominin adaptations such as foraging patterns, habitat preferences, and social behaviors. Yet, the ecological and behavioral implications for increased hominin carnivory remain poorly understood. This dissertation examines the zooarchaeological and paleoenvironmental history of an important Acheulean hominin locality, Elandsfontein, South Africa (ca. 1.0 – 0.6 Ma). The goal is to begin addressing under-investigated aspects of Acheulean hominin behavioral ecology and place Acheulean hominin subsistence behavior within an environmental context.

The first part of this dissertation is focused on the mechanisms of large mammal bone accumulation and alteration. Although there is a long history of research at Elandsfontein, the majority of the original EFTM faunal material was collected from deflation surfaces and lacks sufficient contextual information. As such, it is unsuitable for placing hominin behavioral ecology within a resolved spatial and temporal framework. I conduct a comprehensive zooarchaeological analysis of fauna from four recent excavations across the Elandsfontein dunefield. Findings indicate that earlier zooarchaeological studies at Elandsfontein underestimate the degree of hominin contribution to the fossil assemblage and do not take into account the complex taphonomic history across the paleolandscape.

The second part of this dissertation contributes to the growing body of paleoenvironmental data at Elandsfontein by incorporating bovid ecomorphological analysis. I conducted a traditional ecomorphological analysis of bovid radii, astragali, and proximal phalanges using caliper measurements. Results suggest a mix of habitats including a predominantly open landscape with significant woody or bushy components. Finally, I introduce a new technique for conducting ecomorphological analysis on bovid mandibles and metapodials using 3D geometric morphometrics (3D GM). This study marks the first use of 3D GM to explore morphological correlates to diet and locomotor behavior in African antelopes. Results are consistent with previous habitat reconstructions at Elandsfontein suggesting a mix of habitats with significant grass, tree, and/or shrub components.