Akrotiri Aetokremnos and the Cypriot Pygmy Hippopotamus: An Interdisciplinary Look at a Late Pleistocene Large Mammal Extinction

by Kayla Wopschall

Institution: University of Washington
Degree: PhD
Year: 2015
Keywords: extinction; island ecology; paleoecology; zooarchaeology; Archaeology
Record ID: 2061207
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1773/33092


The cause for large mammal extinctions in the Late Pleistocene has been debated for decades, with two main factors constantly discussed – human hunting and climatic change. The Cypriot pygmy hippopotamus represents a case study of one such extinction event. The last appearance of this species is at the archaeological site Akrotiri Aetokremnos (~12,000 cal. B.P.), the oldest well-dated site on Cyprus. This dissertation represents interdisciplinary analyses surrounding the faunal remains of the Cypriot pygmy hippopotamus at this site, in an attempt to create a more holistic picture of the dynamics of this event and parse out the potential relative impacts of climate change and humans. First, a morphological comparison between other extinct and extant hippopotamids allows the inferences of the behavior and subsistence strategies of the Cypriot pygmy hippopotamus. This is then correlated with the Late Pleistocene climatic change, and documented through stable isotope studies from the Cypriot pygmy hippopotamus remains, showing that this species would have been susceptible to such dramatic change. After the discussion of this paleoecological context, the archaeological site is evaluated for any evidence of post-depositional taphonomic processes which could potentially skew the representation of faunal remains – creating biases. Next, comparing the demographic profiles at Akrotiri Aetokremnos to theoretical and ecological profiles shows compelling evidence that humans hunted this species. With this in mind, a detailed assessment of the skeletal representation at the site allows the inference of human behavior – attempting to identify how humans may have procured and/or utilized this species. Overall, this work sheds light on this species' dynamics, the nature of accumulation at this particular site, and begins the discussion of how the earliest Cypriots may have procured and interacted with the species.