A tale of many tracks: An overview of fossil proboscidean footprints at Paleolithic sites around the world, with a particular focus on Schöningen, in Germany
Modern elephants shape the habitats they live in to such an extent that they are referred to as ecosystem engineers; their ancient counterparts seem to have done the same. The most frequent and visible traces left by proboscideans past and present are footprints. However, while their tracks are not uncommon in the world trace fossil record, as far as we know they are relatively rare in the prehistoric archeological record. This paper provides a concise overview of the most important Plio-Pleistocene archeological sites ‒ in Africa, Asia, North America, and Europe ‒ which also contain fossil proboscidean tracks. Particular attention is given to the site of Schöningen, in Germany (Lower Saxony), dated at about 300 ka ago, where recent research has brought to light the largest assemblage of fossilized straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus) footprints ever found at a Paleolithic excavation. In one of the many instances in which ichnology is increasingly used to aid the reconstruction of the environmental, biological, and cultural features of prehistoric sites, these tracks make it possible to expand our knowledge of the ecology of Plio-Pleistocene proboscideans and gather clues on their ecological, spatial and behavioral interactions with hominin groups.
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