Volume 53 2018–2019

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    First occurrence of the dicynodont Digalodon (Therapsida, Anomodontia) from the Lopingian upper Madumabisa Mudstone Formation, Luangwa Basin, Zambia
    (Evolutionary Studies Institute, 2019-04) Angielczyk, Kenneth D.
    Digalodon is a rare emydopoid dicynodont first described from upper Permian rocks in the Karoo Basin of South Africa. During fieldwork in the upper Madumabisa Mudstone Formation of the Luangwa Basin (Zambia) in 2014, a small dicynodont skull was discovered that conforms very well to the recently revised diagnosis of Digalodon rubidgei, although some minor differences between the Zambian and South African specimens are apparent. The Zambian occurrence of Digalodon expands the known geographic range of the genus, which was previously limited to a small set of localities in the vicinity of the town of Graaff-Reinet (Eastern Cape). Based on historical specimens, Digalodon is thought to have a comparatively short stratigraphic range in the Balfour Formation that spans the boundary between the Cistecephalus and Daptocephalus assemblage zones. This observation may allow refinement of biostratigraphic correlations between the Karoo and Luangwa Basins, but discovery of more precisely-provenanced specimens in the Karoo is needed to fully assess Digalodon’s biostratigraphic utility.
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    Postcranial osteology of the neotype specimen of Massospondylus carinatus Owen, 1854 (Dinosauria: Sauropodomorpha) from the upper Elliot formation of South Africa
    (Evolutionary Studies Institute, 2019-04) Barrett, Paul M.; Chapelle, Kimberley E.J.; Staunton, Casey K.; Botha, Jennifer; Choiniere, Jonah N.
    Massospondylus carinatus Owen, 1854, from the earliest Jurassic upper Elliot Formation of South Africa, was one of the first dinosaurs to be described from Gondwana. It has been incorporated into numerous phylogenetic, palaeobiological and biostratigraphic analyses, is often viewed as an exemplar for understanding sauropodomorph anatomy and is a key taxon in studies of early dinosaur evolution. Since its initial description, numerous specimens have been referred to this species, ranging from isolated postcranial elements to complete skeletons with three-dimensional skulls. In addition,M. carinatus has been identified in areas outside of the main Karoo Basin. Surprisingly, however, there have been few attempts to define the taxon rigorously, so that the basis for many of these referrals is weak, undermining the utility of this abundant material. Here, we provide the first detailed postcranial description of the neotype specimen ofM. carinatus, use it as a basis for diagnosing the species on the basis of cranial, axial and appendicular characters, demonstrate that it represents an adult individual on the basis of osteohistology, and discuss ways in which these data can assist in providing a better understanding of Karoo-aged African dinosaur faunas.
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    A fossil chrysochlorid skull in the Ditsong National Museum of Natural History: Robert Broom’s missing specimen unearthed?
    (Evolutionary Studies Institute, 2019-04) Mason, Matthew J.; Bennett, Nigel C.; Pickford, Martin
    An unlabelled, fossilized skull of a golden mole from the Ditsong National Museum of Natural History, Pretoria, was examined through micro-computed tomography. Reconstructions show that the species in question has alveoli for nine teeth in each upper jaw, although only six teeth in total remain. The skull resembles those of the extant chrysochlorids Amblysomus and Calcochloris, which also have nine teeth, but in most respects it is closer to Amblysomus. The ear region, examined in detail, also proved to be very similar to that of Amblysomus. Damage to the teeth and palate are consistent with the brief descriptions of a fossil golden mole skull first mentioned by Robert Broom in 1948. This specimen, dating from the Plio-Pleistocene and provisionally identified as Proamblysomus antiquus, subsequently went missing. We argue that the skull described here is Broom’s lost specimen, but whether this fossil species really deserves generic distinction from extant groups remains unclear.
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    The inner craniodental anatomy of the Papio specimen U.W. 88-886 from the Early Pleistocene site of Malapa, Gauteng, South Africa
    (Evolutionary Studies Institute, 2019-04) Bouchet, Florian; Ribéron, Alexandre; Heaton, Jason L.; Hoffman, Jakobus; Bam, Lunga; Jakata, Kudakwashe; Tawane, Mirriam; Tenailleau, Christophe; Zipfel, Bernhard; Beaudet, Amélie
    Cercopithecoids represent an essential component of the Plio-Pleistocene faunal assemblage. However, despite the abundance of the cercopithecoid fossil remains in African Plio-Pleistocene deposits, the chronological and geographic contexts from which the modern baboons (i.e. Papio hamadryas ssp.) emerged are still debated. The recently discovered Papio (hamadryas) angusticeps specimen (U.W. 88-886) from the Australopithecus sediba-bearing site of Malapa, Gauteng, South Africa, may represent the first modern baboon occurrence in the fossil record. Given the implication of U.W. 88-886 for the understanding of the papionin evolutionary history and the potential of internal craniodental structures for exploring evolutionary trends in fossil monkey taxa, we use X-ray microtomography to investigate the inner craniodental anatomy of this critical specimen. Our goal is to provide additional evidence to examine the origins of modern baboons. In particular,we explore (i) the tissue proportions and the dentine topographic distribution in dental roots and (ii) the endocranial organization. Consistent with the previous description and metrical analyses of its external cranial morphology, U.W. 88-886 shares internal craniodental anatomy similarities with Plio-Pleistocene and modern Papio, supporting its attribution to Papio (hamadryas) angusticeps. Interestingly, average dentine thickness and distribution in U.W. 88-886 fit more closely to the extinct Papio condition, while the sulcal pattern and relative dentine thickness are more like the extant Papio states. Besides providing additional evidence for characterizing South African fossil papionins, our study sheds new light on the polarity of inner craniodental features in the papionin lineage.
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    A new dicynodont (Anomodontia: Emydopoidea) from the terminal Permian of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
    (Evolutionary Studies Institute, 2019-04) Kammerer, Christian F.
    A new taxon of dicynodont (Thliptosaurus imperforatus gen. et sp. nov.) is described based on a dorsoventrally-crushed skull from latest Permian (upper Daptocephalus Assemblage Zone) strata in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Thliptosaurus is distinguished from all other dicynodonts by an elongate intertemporal bar with broad dorsal exposure of the parietals but apparently no pineal foramen. Absence of the pineal foramen in dicynodonts is exceedingly rare; the only other taxa which exhibit this feature either have substantially broader (Kawingasaurus fossilis) or narrower (Kombuisia frerensis) intertemporal regions. Inclusion of Thliptosaurus in a phylogenetic analysis of dicynodonts recovers it as a kingoriid emydopoid, a position supported by its anteriorly-restricted pterygoid keel, elongate, curved anterior process of the lacrimal, relatively posterior position of the median pterygoid plate, and occlusion of the mandibular fenestra by a lateral plate of the dentary. Intriguingly, even in the other kingoriids which retain a pineal foramen (Dicynodontoides spp. and Kombuisia antarctica), this structure is reduced in size relative to other dicynodonts, suggesting that the pineal eye was less important for thermoregulatory activity in this clade than in other anomodonts. Although part of a local fauna including taxa that are otherwise widespread in the Karoo Basin (Daptocephalus, Lystrosaurus), the unique presence of Thliptosaurus in the relatively poorly-sampled Daptocephalus Assemblage Zone deposits of KwaZulu-Natal suggests that this region may preserve endemic taxa, and should be prioritized for future fieldwork.
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    Mongoose Manor: Herpestidae remains from the Early Pleistocene Cooper’s D locality in the Cradle of Humankind, Gauteng, South Africa
    (Evolutionary Studies Institute, 2019-01) Cohen, Brigette F.; O'Regan, Hannah J.; Steininger, Christine M.
    Mongooses (Herpestidae) are an important component of African ecosystems, and a common constituent of southern African fossil assemblages. Despite this, mongoose fossils from the Cradle of Humankind, Gauteng, South Africa, have received relatively little interest. This paper presents the diverse mongoose craniodental assemblage from the early Pleistocene fossil locality Cooper’s D. A total of 29 mongoose specimens from five genera were identified at Cooper’s, including numerous first appearances in the Cradle or in South Africa. The exceptional mongoose assemblage at Cooper’s likely reflects the effects of an unknown taphonomic process, although mongooses follow other carnivore groups in the Cradle in displaying an apparent preference for the southern part of the Cradle. This investigation shows the value of mongooses as palaeoecological indicators and supports previous interpretations of the environment at Cooper’s as grassland with a strong woody component near a permanent water source.
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    Hominin tracks in southern Africa: a review and an approach to identification
    (Evolutionary Studies Institute, 2019-01) Helm, Charles W.; Lockley, Martin G.; Cole, Kevin; Noakes, Timothy D.; McCrea, Richard T.
    Three Late Pleistocene hominin tracksites have been reported from coastal aelioanites in South Africa. Two have been dated to 124 ka and 117 ka , and the third is inferred to be 90 ka. There are no other globally reported sites for probable Homo sapiens tracks older than 46 ka. Given this documented record, a search for further hominin tracksites in southern Africa may well yield additional positive results. However, this is a field that demands scientific rigour, as false positive tracksites (pseudotracks) may occur. Criteria have been developed for the identification of fossil vertebrate tracks and hominin tracks, but these are specific neither to southern Africa nor to aeolianites.An important caveat is that the tracks of shod humans would not fulfil these criteria. Preservation of tracks varies with facies and is known to be suboptimal in aeolianites. An analysis of the tracks from the three documented South African sites, along with pseudotracks and tracks of questionable provenance, allows for the proposal and development of guidelines for fossil hominin track identification that are of specific relevance to southern Africa. Such guidelines have broader implications for understanding the constraints that track preservation and substrate have on identifying diagnostic morphological features.
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    A new genus of Protasteridae (Ophiuridea) from the Lower Devonian Bokkeveld Group of South Africa
    (Evolutionary Studies Institute, 2019-01) Reid, Mhairi; Hunter, Aaron W.; Taylor, Wendy L.; Bordy, Emese M.
    Gamiroaster tempestatis, a new genus and species of Palaeozoic ophiuroid, is described from four specimens identified in the Lower DevonianVoorstehoek Formation (Ceres Subgroup, Bokkeveld Group) of SouthAfrica. This ophiuroid belongs the family Protaseridae, a Middle–Late Ordovician taxon that continued into the late Palaeozoic. This new ophiuroid forms part of a much wider fauna of the Malvinokaffric Realm, a biogeographical termused to denote the cool- to cold-water, high-latitude endemic, benthic marine, Devonian faunas of southwestern Gondwana, which also includes the invertebrate fossil assemblages of the Argentine Precordillera and the Fox Bay Formation of the Falkland Islands. The specimens were collected from an obrution deposit excavated on Karbonaatjies farm, ~145 km northeast of Cape Town in theWestern Cape. The excavated rock samples contain >700 articulated specimens of Gamiroaster tempestatis that are closely associated with two types of less common mitrate stylophorans. Silicone casts and high-resolution three-dimensional digital models obtained via micro-CT scanning of these mould fossils provided detailed morphological proxies for this taxonomic description.
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    Histological evidence of trauma in tusks of southern African dicynodonts
    (Evolutionary Studies Institute, 2019-01) Whitney, Megan R.; Tse, Yuen Ting; Sidor, Christian A.
    Dicynodonts were a clade of globally-distributed therapsids known for their abundance in the fossil record and for surviving the Permo-Triassic mass extinction. The group had distinctive dental adaptations including a beak and, in many species, paired maxillary tusks. The function of these tusks has long been of interest, yet remains poorly understood.We report here on two instances of unusual morphology in tusk dentine from specimens of: 1) Lystrosaurus from the Karoo Basin of South Africa and, 2) an unidentified dicynodontoid from the Luangwa Basin of Zambia. In both, the cross-sectional shape of the tusk root is lobed and infolded, which histological features suggest is a result of abnormal dentine deposition. We infer that this abnormal morphology is likely the consequence of trauma given its reparative nature and structural similarities to trauma-related morphologies reported in the tusks of modern elephants. This study demonstrates that histological sampling of dicynodont tusks can shed light on the biology of this important clade of therapsids.
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    Biesiespoort revisited: a case study on the relationship between tetrapod assemblage zones and Beaufort lithostratigraphy south of Victoria West
    (Evolutionary Studies Institute, 2018-12) Day, Michael O.; Rubidge, Bruce S.
    The relationship between the tetrapod assemblage zones of the South African Karoo Basin and the lithostratigraphic divisions of the Beaufort Group is well-established, and provides an independent means of dating fossil occurrences. However, this relationship may not be consistent across the basin; a discrepancy exists between the historical tetrapod assemblages in the vicinity of Victoria West, Northern Cape Province, and the expected tetrapod assemblage zones based on mapped geology. In order to examine this disconnect, we collected fossils at two localities close to Biesiespoort railway station, a locality that was visited on a number of occasions by Robert Broom. Our fossil samples support the biostratigraphic determinations of Broom and thus confirmthat the stratigraphic extent of the biozones at these localities differs from their type areas further south. The reasons for this are unclear but could be related to the northward younging of the lithological units, implying complex depositional processes, or result from difficulties in mapping. Nevertheless, caution should be exercised when using mapped geology near Victoria West as a guide to the age of fossils found there.
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    Fossil tree hollows from a late Permian forest of the Matinde Formation (Tete, Mozambique)
    (Evolutionary Studies Institute, 2018-10-31) Araújo, Ricardo; Nhamutole, Nelson; Macungo, Zanildo; Milisse, Dino; Bamford, Marion
    Fossil tree hollows are seldom described in the literature and can often be elusive to the field paleobotanist. However, these structures may provide unique paleoecological, environmental and tree life history information that are essential for a more complete understanding of ancient forests. A stump from the ‘late Permian’ (Wuchiapingian–Changhsingian) of the Mágoè Fossil Forest in Mozambique (Tete Province) provides a rare example of fossilized tree hollows. These hollows were found near the base of the tree and are subcircular in shape, ranging between ~1.3 and 3.5 cm in diameter. Although thirty-one trees were densely sampled (i.e. no fossil trees were excluded from a given area, in our case ~2650m2) and inspected at the Mágoè Fossil Forest, only one (PPM2017-31) exhibited tree hollows, highlighting the scarcity of these structures in this fossil forest. In modern forests tree hollows are more likely to be found in old trees, likewise PPM2017-31 was among the largest trees found in the sample, suggesting this was an old tree. The subcircular morphology of the tree hollows indicates they resulted from fungal/bacterial activity rather than from a fire.