Elemental and isotopic analyses of mammalian fauna from Southern Africa and their implications for paleodietary research

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Abstract

Elemental analyses of mammalian bone (e.g., strontium-calcium ratios, or Sr/Ca) distinguish between herbivores and carnivores; however, the relationships among herbivores are unclear. To study this question, a modern faunal sample from the Nagupande Tsetse Control Area (Zambezi drainage, Northwestern Zimbabwe) was used. This collection has the advantage of well-established geographical controls in addition to a varied fauna, which includes both bovids and suids.

The grazing/browsing dietary status of each species was ascertained by means of isotopic analysis of carbon. Clear differences were seen in the δ13C of grazing and browsing animals; a specialized grazer was found to have significantly lower Sr/Ca than less specialized grazers and browsers.

In this study it was also possible to examine differences in Sr/Ca by sex; female warthogs were found to have significantly lower Sr/Ca than males. The variation in certain animal groups was found to be abnormal.

Implications for reconstruction of prehistoric human diets using trace-element techniques are discussed.

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