Combining legacy data with new drone and DGPS mapping to identify the provenance of Plio-Pleistocene fossils from Bolt's Farm, Cradle of Humankind (South Africa) Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • Bolt’s Farm is a Plio-Pleistocene fossil site located within the southwestern corner of the UNESCO Hominid Fossil Sites of South Africa World Heritage Site. The site is a complex of active caves and more than 20 palaeokarst deposits or pits, many of which were exposed through the action of lime mining in the early 20th century. The pits represent heavily eroded cave systems, and as such associating the palaeocave sediments within and between the pits is difficult, especially as little geochronological data exists. These pits and the associated lime miner’s rubble were first explored by palaeoanthropologists in the late 1930s, but as yet no hominin material has been recovered. The first systematic mapping was undertaken by Frank Peabody as part of the University of California Africa Expedition (UCAE) in 1947–1948. A redrawn version of the map was not published until 1991 by Basil Cooke and this has subsequently been used and modified by recent researchers. Renewed work in the 2000s used Cooke’s map to try and relocate the original fossil deposits. However, Peabody’s map does not include all the pits and caves, and thus in some cases this was successful, while in others previously sampled pits were inadvertently given new names. This was compounded by the fact that new fossil bearing deposits were discovered in this new phase, causing confusion in associating the 1940s fossils with the deposits from which they originated; as well as associating them with the recently excavated material. To address this, we have used a Geographic Information System (GIS) to compare Peabody’s original map with subsequently published maps. This highlighted transcription errors between maps, most notably the location of Pit 23, an important palaeontological deposit given the recovery of well-preserved primate crania (Parapapio, Cercopithecoides) and partial skeletons of the extinct felid Dinofelis. We conducted the first drone and Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) survey of Bolt’s Farm. Using legacy data, high-resolution aerial imagery, accurate DGPS survey and GIS, we relocate the original fossil deposits and propose a definitive and transparent naming strategy for Bolt’s Farm, based on the original UCAE Pit numbers. We provide datum points and a new comprehensive, georectified map to facilitate spatially accurate fossil collection for all future work. Additionally, we have collated recently published faunal data with historic fossil data to evaluate the biochronological potential of the various deposits. This suggests that the palaeocave deposits in different pits formed at different times with the occurrence of Equus in some pits implying ages of <2.3 Ma, whereas more primitive suids (Metridiochoerus) hint at a terminal Pliocene age for other deposits. This study highlights that Bolt’s Farm contains rare South African terminal Pliocene fossil deposits and creates a framework for future studies of the deposits and previously excavated material.

publication date

  • 2019

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