The Middle Stone Age archaeological record from the south coast of South Africa contains significant evidence for early modern human behavior. The south coast is within the modern Greater Cape Floristic Region (GCFR), which in the present-day encompasses the entirety of South Africa’s Winter Rainfall Zone (WRZ) and contains unique vegetation elements that have been hypothesized to be of high utility to hunter-gatherer populations. Extant paleoenvironmental proxy records for the Pleistocene in the region often indicate evidence for more open environments during the past than occur in the area in the present-day, while climate models suggest glacial presence of the WRZ that would support maintenance of C3-predominant GCFR vegetation.
These paleoenvironmental proxies sample past environments at geographic scales that are often regional. The GCFR flora is hyper-diverse, and glacial climate change-driven impacts on local vegetation could have been highly variable over relatively small geographic scales. Proxy records that are circumscribed in their geographic scale are thus key to our understanding of ancient environments at particular MSA archaeological localities.
Micromammal fossil teeth are now recognized as an abundant potential reservoir of paleoenvironmental proxy data at an extremely local scale. This study analyzed modern micromammal teeth obtained from raptor pellets at three locations on the south coast. Stable carbon isotope analysis indicates that the modern micromammals from the taxa sampled consume a wide range of δ13Cplant on the landscape when it is available, and thus stable carbon isotope analysis of micromammal teeth should act as a proxy for the range of available δ13Cdiet in a circumscribed area of vegetation.
Micromammal stable carbon isotope data obtained from specimens from one of the few well-dated MIS6-MIS5 sequences in the region (Pinnacle Point sites 13B, 30, and 9C). δ13Cenamel values for the taxa sampled indicate diets that are primarily C3, and there is almost no evidence for a dietary C4 grass component in any of the sampled specimens. This indicates that, at a minimum, pockets of C3 vegetation associated with the GCFR were likely available to hunter-gatherers at Pinnacle Point throughout the Middle and Late Pleistocene.