Remains of a barn owl (Tyto alba) from the Dinaledi Chamber, Rising Star Cave, South Africa

Keywords: Homo naledi, Cradle of Humankind, faunal remains, Pleistocene, vertebrate taphonomy

Abstract

Excavations during November 2013 in the Rising Star Cave, South Africa uncovered over 1550 specimens of a new hominin, Homo naledi. A total of four modern bird bones were collected from the surface of the Dinaledi Chamber during the first phase of the initial excavations. While mentioned in the geological and taphonomic descriptions, the presumably modern or sub-modern bird remains have not been formally identified or described until now. Here we identify these remains as indistinguishable from those of a modern barn owl (Tyto alba). Tyto alba is today common to the region and known to contribute microfaunal remains at many Plio-Pleistocene sites in the Cradle of Humankind. Based on the greatest length measurement and breadth of the proximal articulation of the specimen, it is suggested that the owl from the Dinaledi Chamber is more similar to that of females of the species, despite the small sample sizes available for comparison. It is unclear how the remains of this female owl came to be in the remote Dinaledi Chamber.

Significance:

  • Owl bones from the Dinaledi Chamber are the only other macro-vertebrate remains from this Chamber.
  • The other remains discovered are that of more than 15 individuals of the enigmatic Homo naledi.
  • The remains of the Dinaledi Chamber owl further our understanding of the contents of the important material contained within the Dinaledi system as they are the only more recent fossils to be recovered from this area of the Rising Star Cave system and are therefore important in and of themselves as an indicator that more proximal parts of the Rising Star Cave system have been suitable for use by barn owls at greater time depths than the present.
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Published
2018-11-27