Damaliscus niro horns from Wonderwerk Cave and other Pleistocene sites: morphological and chronological considerations

Thackeray, JF
Brink, JS
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Bernard Price Institute for Palaeontological Research
Wonderwerk Cave, situated near Kuruman in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa, has yielded well-preserved horns of many antelope, including three horn fragments of Damaliscus niro. These specimens were discovered in the course of guano-mining operations in the 1940s. Remarkably, they retain a keratinous sheath. Dimensions of Pleistocene horn cores from Sterkfontein, Olduvai, Cornelia-Uitzoek, Florisbad and Maselspoort are used to assess the Wonderwerk specimens. Assuming that morphological variability can be used to assess relative chronology, we suggest that the Wonderwerk specimens date to the Middle Pleistocene, intermediate in age between specimens from Florisbad (between 400 000 and 100 000 years BP) and Cornelia-Uitzoek (c. 800 000 years BP). One of the Wonderwerk specimens has a radiocarbon date of close to the limit of the method.We interpret this to reflect an indefinite age of greater than 40 000 years ago. This is not in conflict with the suggested Middle Pleistocene age of the specimens. The horns are of further interest in that the keratin sheaths have carbon-nitrogen ratios that suggest the presence of protein suitable for ancient-DNA analysis.
morphological variability, chronology, early Florisian.