Research Articles

Hominin palaeoecology in Late Pliocene Malawi: First insights from isotopes (13C, 18O) in mammal teeth

Hervé Bocherens, Oliver Sandrock, Ottmar Kullmer, Friedemann Schrenk
South African Journal of Science | Vol 107, No 3/4 | a331 | DOI: | © 2011 Hervé Bocherens, Oliver Sandrock, Ottmar Kullmer, Friedemann Schrenk | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 28 June 2010 | Published: 07 March 2011

About the author(s)

Hervé Bocherens, Universität Tübingen, Germany
Oliver Sandrock, Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt, Germany
Ottmar Kullmer, Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg, Palaeoanthropologie, Germany
Friedemann Schrenk, Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität, Germany


Carbon-13 and oxygen-18 abundances were measured in large mammal skeletal remains (tooth enamel, dentine and bone) from the Chiwondo Beds in Malawi, which were dated by biostratigraphic correlation to ca. 2.5 million years ago. The biologic isotopic patterns, in particular the difference in carbon-13 abundances between grazers and browsers and the difference in oxygen-18 abundances between semi-aquatic and terrestrial herbivores, were preserved in enamel, but not in dentine and bone. The isotopic results obtained from the skeletal remains from the Chiwondo Beds indicate a dominance of savannah habitats with some trees and shrubs. This environment was more arid than the contemporaneous Ndolanya Beds in Tanzania. The present study confirms that robust australopithecines were able to live in relatively arid environments and were not confined to more mesic environments elsewhere in southern Africa.


carbon-13; Chiwondo Beds; enamel; Homo; Malawi; mammals; oxygen-18; palaeoecology; Paranthropus; Pliocene


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