Taxonomy, taphonomy and spatial distribution of the cercopithecoid postcranial fossils from Sterkfontein caves

Mokokwe, Dipuo Winnie
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Fossil primates are some of the most well represented fauna in South Africa’s fossil Plio-Pleistocene cave sites. Sterkfontein preserves the largest number of fossil primates and a large portion of these are cercopithecoid remains. This research project provides a taxonomic analysis of the abundant fossil cercopithecoid post-cranial limb elements discovered at the site. One thousand five hundred fourteen identifiable fossil cercopithecoid postcrania from the Sterkfontein caves are analysed. From these, five genera are identified from morphologically diagnostic postcranial elements; these are Papio, Parapapio, Theropithecus, Cercopithecoides and Cercopithecus. Theropithecus is identified in Member 4, earlier than previously known. It is established that size, form and function are important factors in taxonomic studies. They play a major role in taxonomic examinations; however, they cannot be treated as disconnected facets of a taxonomic exercise. Each plays an essential role in taxonomic analyses. The study confirms that the Member 4 environment, which illustrates the turn from the Pliocene to the Pleistocene and the most mosaic of all the Plio-Pleistocene sites of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, samples the most faunal variability in the Sterkfontein Cave deposits. This research supports the hypothesis that carnivores were not the main accumulating agent for the cercopithecoid fossil remains within the caves. The carnivores, however, impacted the fossil cercopithecoid assemblage. Leopards and hyaenas are identified as some of the carnivores which accumulated the fossil cercopithecoids within the Sterkfontein caves. The research has opened a new scope for taxonomic analysis of isolated fossil cercopithecoid postcrania in the southern African fossil cave sites.
A dissertation submitted to the Faculty of Science, University of the Witwatersrand, in fulfilment of the requirements for the higher degree of Doctor of Philosophy. July, 2016.
Mokokwe, Dipuo Winnie (2016) Taxonomy, taphonomy and spatial distribution of the cercopithecoid postcranial fossils from Sterkfontein caves, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, <>