Taking Stock of Foodplants Growing in the Cradle of Humankind Fossil Hominin Site, South Africa

Marlize Lombard, Andri C. van Aardt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Despite a century’s work in the UNESCO Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site in South Africa, there has been no systematic consideration of the area’s full foodplant regime when palaeo-scientists try to reconstruct past hominin dietary ecologies. Here we present the first inventory of human-foraged foodplants currently growing in the Cradle of Humankind and discuss the time depth of the relative biomes, showing that some of the plant regimes may well have been available for hominin foraging throughout the Quaternary. We list 223 taxa, highlighting the most species-rich foodplant families in the Cradle, such as the Poaceae, Apocynaceae, and Fabaceae. Our results show an almost equal availability of edible fruits, leaves, and underground/underwater storage organs (USOs) in the Cradle’s foodplant population, supporting work suggesting diet specialization or flexible foraging strategies for the Cradle’s hominins. Whereas it was thought that human geophyte and/or USO consumption was particularly high on the Cape Fynbos landscape during the middle-late Pleistocene, the richness of USO plant foods growing in the Cradle—most of them non-geophytic in their growth forms (thus without specialized/modified storage systems such as tubers, corms, rhizomes or bulbs)—demonstrates that such resources were probably also abundantly available to inland hominin populations. We suggest that future dietary reconstructions for the Cradle’s hominins may benefit from working with the known foodplant population presented here.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-77
Number of pages19
JournalAfrican Archaeological Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022


  • Grassland Biome
  • Pleistocene
  • Savanna Biome
  • dietary ecology
  • foraging
  • hominins

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archeology (arts and humanities)
  • Archeology


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