Living By Proxy: An Exploration of a New Ungulate-Based Climate Proxy in Sub-Saharan Africa
Climatic and environmental changes are cited as driving human evolution and migration. Many studies, however, have relied on regional scale palaeoenvironmental proxies such as marine or lake cores, and these large-scale proxies are difficult to relate to specific archaeological sites, highlighting the need for site-specific proxies. Development of such proxies will allow for more confident interpretations of causal links between climate oscillations and changes in the archaeological record.
Throughout the African Plio-Pleistocene fossil record, ungulates (hoofed mammals) are abundant and demonstrate strong links with specific habitats. Zooarchaeologists have often utilised ungulate remains to reconstruct habitats of archaeological sites and examine environmental change through time. However, less exploration has taken place into the relationship between ungulates and specific climate variables (i.e., temperature, precipitation, etc.).
This seminar will discuss the results of an honours project undertaken in 2016 at UQ to investigate this relationship. Multivariate statistical analyses were used to study community composition of 64 modern sub-Saharan African ungulate communities in relation to mean annual temperature (MAT) and mean annual precipitation (MAP). Results revealed a strong positive correlation between actual and predicted climate parameters (MAT r2= 0.69; MAP r2= 0.60). Using transfer functions developed from the modern data, quantitative climate variable estimates were produced for 6 fossil assemblages spanning the late Quaternary. A critical evaluation indicated, however, that this new proxy was problematic at best.
About the Presenter
Marc Cheeseman recently completed his undergraduate and honours degrees at the University of Queensland. He is currently keeping himself busy by writing academic articles, newspaper articles, very polite emails, and bad music. His research interests include palaeoecology, taphonomy, landscape formation, contemporary archaeology, social and practice theories, and human agency.