Differential preservation of vertebrates in Southeast Asian caves

Julien Louys, Shimona Kealy, Susan O'Connor, Gilbert Price, Stuart Hawkins, Ken P. Aplin, Yan Rizal, Jahdi Zaim, Mahirta Mahirta, Daud Tanudirjo, Wahyu Dwijo Santoso, Ati Rati Hidayah, Agus Trihascaryo, Rachel Wood, Joseph Bevitt, Tara Clark

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Caves have been an important source of vertebrate fossils for much of Southeast Asia, particularly for the Quaternary. Despite this importance, the mechanisms by which vertebrate remains accumulate and preserve in Southeast Asian caves has never been systematically reviewed or examined. Here, we present the results of three years of cave surveys in Indonesia and Timor-Leste, describing cave systems and their attendant vertebrate accumulations in diverse geological, biogeographical, and environmental settings. While each cave system is unique, we find that the accumulation and preservation of vertebrate remains are highly dependent on local geology and environment. These factors notwithstanding, we find the dominant factor responsible for faunal deposition is the presence or absence of biological accumulating agents, a factor directly dictated by biogeographical history. In small, isolated, volcanic islands, the only significant accumulation occurs in archaeological settings, thereby limiting our understanding of the palaeontology of those islands prior to human arrival. In karstic landscapes on both oceanic and continental islands, our understanding of the long-term preservation of vertebrates is still in its infancy. The formation processes of vertebrate-bearing breccias, their taphonomic histories, and the criteria used to determine whether these represent syngenetic or multiple deposits remain critically understudied. The latter in particular has important implications for arguments on how breccia deposits from the region should be analysed and interpreted when reconstructing palaeoenvironments.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)379-408
    JournalInternational Journal of Speleology
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2017


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