Mortality profiles of Castor and Trogontherium (Mammalia: Rodentia, Castoridae), with notes on the site formation of the Mid-Pleistocene hominin locality Bilzingsleben II (Thuringia, Central Germany)


The Middle Pleistocene site Bilzingsleben II is well-known for its wealth of vertebrate and archaeological remains. Of particular importance is the record of Homo erectus bilzingslebenensis. Most palaeontologists consider the find horizon as a primary vertebrate deposit formed during human occupation, while some archaeologists attribute its formation to turbulent gravitational mass flows, inundation or a combination of both. Here we present mortality profiles of the beavers Castor and Trogontherium to provide further arguments to this controversial discussion. The mortality profiles of Castor from Bilzingsleben II, Weimar-Ehringsdorf and Weimar-Taubach are largely identical indicating similar taphonomic filters that were effective in the formation of the find layers. Individuals, which were tentatively classified as suspected ±2–2½ year old beavers dominate by far in all three sites. The structure of these mortality profiles shows similarities to Stiner’s (1990) “prime dominated mortality pattern”, which is indicative of human hunting. This consideration is supported by the difference of the mortality profile of Trogontherium from Bilzingsleben II (dominance of older individuals) in relation to the profiles of non-hominin generated assemblages of Tegelen and Mosbach 2 (dominance of younger individuals). Thus, our data support the interpretation of the Palaeolithic find horizon of Bilzingsleben II as a primary vertebrate deposit, but not the gravitational mass flow and inundation hypotheses.

Key words

Taphonomy, ageing, Castoridae, Pleistocene, Europe