The microvertebrates of Qesem Cave: A comparison of the two concentrations

Krister T. Smith, Lutz Christian Maul, Felicitas Flemming, Ran Barkai, Avi Gopher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Middle Pleistocene Qesem Cave, Israel, contains one of the richest known deposits of microvertebrate remains in the Near East, nearly a quarter of a million specimens. The remains have been excavated from two main concentrations, and over 16,000 have been identified to genus level. The faunal content of the two concentrations is broadly similar, and only a few taxa are restricted to the one or the other; most notably, the Myomimus judaicus/setzeri group and Rattus cf. haasi are only known from the chronologically older Concentration 2. The identification of Stellagama stellio is presented as an example of tree-thinking in the Quaternary; a phylogenetic tree is an epistemic structure that provides a non-arbitrary means to determine the minimum number and phylogenetic position of extant comparative specimens required to identify an extinct population. The new mammal data show that the total proportion of lower vertebrates in the microfauna is lower than previously thought, although Chamaeleo chamaeleon remains by far the second most-abundant prey species. The assemblages from the two concentrations are significantly different from each other in terms of relative abundances: lower vertebrates, shrews, and bats are less abundant in the Concentration 2, and several rodents, most notably Microtus guentheri, are more abundant there. However, rank-order abundance between the two assemblages is strongly correlated, suggesting that the surrounding community was largely stable. The taphonomic data obtained so far suggest a Barn Owl as the predominant accumulator in Concentration 1, although natural history observations on Barn Owls and chameleons are strongly at odds with this actualistic inference. We suggest that this represents an example of non-analog behavior in the extinct Barn Owl population. Barn Owls, in turn, are sensitive to disturbance and unlikely to have occupied the cave at precisely the same time as the hominins. These observations suggest new ways to study human occupation patterns and behavioral adaptation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)233-245
Number of pages13
JournalQuaternary International
Volume398
DOIs
StatePublished - 4 Apr 2016

Keywords

  • Archaezoology
  • Israel
  • Microvertebrates
  • Pleistocene
  • Species diversity
  • Taphonomy
  • Tree-thinking

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