Pleistocene vertebrate tracksites on the Cape south coast of South Africa and their potential palaeoecological implications

Charles W. Helm, Hayley C. Cawthra, Richard M. Cowling, Jan C. De Vynck, Martin G. Lockley, Curtis W. Marean, Guy H.H. Thesen, Jan A. Venter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Body fossil remains usually provide the main palaeontological resource for palaeoecological studies. Ichnology has the capacity to independently complement such data. Fossil tracksites provide a direct record of animals whose tracks have been preserved, and with regard to the Palaeo-Agulhas Plain they have direct relevance in considering palaeoecology. While biases may be present in ichnological data, they are different from the biases inherent in traditional body fossil studies. A ground survey along a 350 km portion of the Cape south coast, between Arniston in the west and Robberg in the east, identified well over a hundred-and-thirty ichnofossil sites in Late Pleistocene coastal aeolianites and lithified foreshore deposits. Some of these tracks were made by extinct species or subspecies. In other cases these tracksites demonstrate spatial range extensions of extant species, when compared with data available from body fossils or historical records. These sites include the largest and best preserved archive of Late Pleistocene hominin tracks thus far described. The tracksites occur on the margin of the Palaeo-Agulhas Plain, which may allow for palaeoenvironmental conclusions to be drawn regarding Late Pleistocene conditions on this extinct landscape. We summarize the most important sites, discuss the limitations and challenges of ichnological studies, and provide perspectives on future work.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105857
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
StatePublished - May 1 2020


  • Aeolianites
  • Cape south coast
  • Fossil trackways
  • Ichnology
  • Palaeoecology
  • Pleistocene

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology
  • Geology


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