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date: 10 December 2022

Faunal Exploitation Strategies During the Later Pleistocene in Southern Africalocked

Faunal Exploitation Strategies During the Later Pleistocene in Southern Africalocked

  • Gerrit L. DusseldorpGerrit L. DusseldorpLeiden University
  •  and Jerome P. ReynardJerome P. ReynardUniversity of the Witwatersrand


Analysis of Late Pleistocene fauna exploitation (~130,000–12,000 years ago) in southern Africa is of global academic relevance. Faunal analyses from southern African sites have led to the development of influential hypotheses on the evolution of modern human hunting methods and subsistence economies.

In the 1970s and 1980s, analysis of faunal remains from the Middle Stone Age site Klasies River informed the hypothesis that Middle Stone Age humans were less effective hunters than ethnographically documented hunter-gatherers. This was based on the underrepresentation of dangerous prey species in the bone assemblages. The development of detailed taphonomic research in the 1990s and 2000s demonstrated that the accumulation of faunal assemblages was the result of complex processes involving both human and nonhuman agents. These studies helped establish that Middle Stone Age hunters were as capable as those in ethnographically documented societies. Since then, important progress has been made in the identification of the weapons systems that were used to hunt animals. Analyses of lithic implements indicate bow-and-arrow use in southern Africa going back to at least 65,000 years ago.

Animal exploitation strategies do change over time. Hunting strategies probably focused on large antelope during the Middle Pleistocene, and the importance of smaller animals increased This change was likely caused by a shift in prey populations that stemmed from a combination of environmental change and perhaps human population pressure.

Late Pleistocene archaeological sites show increasing evidence for intensification; that is, an increase in the amount of food extracted from the environment by more thorough processing of prey, exploitation of new prey types, and development of new exploitation strategies. This pattern is usually linked to animal overexploitation and may be a result of human population expansion or environmental change if decreasing productivity limits the supply of animal prey. Notable examples of this are shellfish middens at coastal sites, the abundance of tortoises, and the presence of large numbers of small mammals that were likely snared instead of pursued.


  • Archaeology

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