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Journal of Archaeological Science 34 (2007) 613e625
http://www.elsevier.com/locate/jas

Pleistocene micromammals from Wonderwerk Cave,
South Africa: practical issues
D.M. Avery
Iziko South African Museum, P.O. Box 61, Cape Town 8000, South Africa
Received 3 May 2006; received in revised form 30 June 2006; accepted 5 July 2006

Abstract
The combination of large samples and brokenmaterial raises practical issues and potential problems that may be undetectable in smaller
samples. Informal identification keys are provided to indicate the types of non-dental features that may be usefully employed when standard
features are not present. This process has so far been taken to the generic level. The ratio of minimum numbers of individuals based on mandibles alone (MD) to those obtainedusing mandibles and maxillae (MNI) varies from 0.59 in Gerbillinae to 0.97 in Macroscelididae, thereby
demonstrating that counting only mandibles will skew sample structure. Differential difficulty of identification at lower taxonomic levels, combined with differential susceptibility to breakage, also influences the likelihood that the proportional representation of taxa will be correct.
Ó 2006Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Pleistocene; Micromammals; Identification; MNIs

1. Introduction
As early as 1941 Malan and Cooke were able to state that
Wonderwerk Cave (27 50 0 4500 S: 23 33 0 1900 E), some 45 km
south of Kuruman in what is now the Northern Cape Province
of South Africa, ‘has long been known as a site at which prehistoric rock paintings occur’ (Malan andCooke, 1941: 300).
Subsequently, Wonderwerk has become increasingly recognized for its long sequence of artefacts, fossils and environmental information (Avery, 1981, 1995; Beaumont, 1979,
1982, 1990, 2004; Camp, 1948; Humphreys and Thackeray,
1983; Malan and Wells, 1943; Thackeray, 1984; Van Zinderen
Bakker, 1982). Particularly important is the sequence of Middle Pleistocene fossils, which isunique in South Africa. Early
reports concentrated on the larger mammal remains from
Wonderwerk but extensive excavations by P.B. Beaumont,
McGregor Museum, Kimberley, yielded impressively large
samples of micromammals from several excavations in this
huge (149 m deep; Beaumont (2004)) cave (Fig. 1). The

E-mail address: mavery@iziko.org.za
0305-4403/$ - see front matter Ó 2006 Elsevier Ltd.All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.jas.2006.07.001

Holocene (Later Stone Age) sample showed high taxonomic
diversity, with 3731 individuals representing at least 33 species in 30 genera (Avery, 1981) while material from a test excavation into the Pleistocene layers produced 2966 individuals
representative of at least 27 species in 23 genera (Avery,
1995). Currently, M. Chazan (University ofToronto) and L.
Kolska Horwitz (University of Jerusalem) are leading an international team to carry forward Beaumont’s work, with particular emphasis on dating the deposits and confirming
correlations of excavations in different areas of the site. The
present investigation, although begun before the current initiative, forms part of the ChazaneHorwitz project.
The sheer size of themicromammalian samples available
from Wonderwerk Cave has brought with it unanticipated
logistical problems, which have been exacerbated by a high
degree of breakage. The fundamental reason for the high level
of breakage is the fragile condition of much of the bone. However, the situation has almost certainly been made worse by the
long drawn-out process involving excavation, transport to
Kimberley andinitial sorting there under Peter Beaumont’s supervision, followed by transport to Cape Town and detailed
sorting at Iziko South African Museum under my supervision.

614

D.M. Avery / Journal of Archaeological Science 34 (2007) 613e625

On the positive side, however, the extent of the excavations
and the correspondingly large amounts of micromammalian
material highlight problems that...
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