Abstract

Taung, South Africa yielded the first Pliocene Hominini fossil, Australopithecus africanus, recovered from a lime quarry in 1924. To identify whether the habitat of the site differed from present-day conditions, dietary preferences of fossil papionins from Taung, including Parapapio antiquus (n  =  8), Papio izodi (n  =  12), and indeterminate specimens (n  =  10) were examined under low magnification to discern patterns of dental microwear. The comparative fossil sample from Sterkfontein Member 4 includes Parapapio broomi (n  =  10) and Parapapio jonesi (n  =  5). Extant Papio ursinus (n  =  20), a savanna-dwelling baboon from South Africa, provides a modern analogue. Six dental use-wear scars on the paracone of the second molar (M2) were recorded and the data analyzed using ANOVA with Tukey's test to detect whether group differences were present for each feature; linear regression identified significant covariation of microwear features. Principal components analysis and discriminant function analysis were utilized to identify species-specific dietary signals. Extant Papio ursinus is separated from the extinct taxa solely by a relatively greater number of fine scratches with respect to the other microwear features. Papio izodi overlaps primarily with extant Papio and secondarily with Parapapio, which forms a more discrete grouping that includes Parapapio antiquus from Taung. A wetter, more closed environment is suggested for Taung and Sterkfontein Member 4 compared to the habitat of present-day central South Africa.

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