One against many: considerations on the carnivore guild of Dmanisi and the place of Homo in the Early Pleistocene ecosystem of Georgia
The site of Dmanisi (Georgia; 1.85-1.76 Ma), well known for the earliest osteological record of hominids out of Africa, has one of the most diverse carnivore guilds of the entire Old World Early Pleistocene. It includes 14 carnivoran taxa: five medium- and large-sized felids (Homotherium latidens, Megantereon whitei, Panthera onca georgica, Acinonyx pardinensis, Lynx issiodorensis); the large hyaenid Pachycrocuta brevirostris; three canids (Canis (Xenocyon) lycaonoides, Canis borjgali, Vulpes alopecoides); the Etruscan bear (Ursus etruscus); and four mustelids (Lutra sp., Martes sp., Meles sp. and Pannonictis sp.). The analyses of this rich carnivore guild suggest a close similarity among the Dmanisi carnivore assemblage and other guilds recorded from European late Villafranchian sites (like those of Orce site complex), especially in comparison to Eastern African or South African sites, which display a limited similarity with composition of Dmanisi guild. The abundance of carnivorans in the guilds of site where hominids species are also recorded has been related to the relationship between these two groups. Older sites, characterized by Oldowan tools, generally have abundant records of carnivorans; on the contrary, later sites in which Acheulian tools dominates the lithic artifact record, carnivorans become scarcer. This could be related to a shift in behavior by hominids from scavenging, subject to interspecific competition with other carnivorans, to active hunters, gaining more control of the environment. The site of Dmanisi fits in this interpretation as its evidence (in terms of lithic artifacts, record of primitive-like Homo, and carnivorans abundance) testifies. Homo erectus in Dmanisi, as in other coeval sites across Eurasia, would have had compete with carnivorans to access highly nutrient food resources as meat, fat and marrow of carcasses, or to defend its kills from kleptoparasite carnivorans, often much larger than them.