Evidence of artefacts made of giant sloth bones in central Brazil around the last glacial maximum

Thais R. Pansani, Briana Pobiner, Pierre Gueriau, Mathieu Thoury, Paul Tafforeau, Emmanuel Baranger, Águeda V. Vialou, Denis Vialou, Cormac McSparron, Mariela C. de Castro, Mário A. T. Dantas, Loïc Bertrand, Mírian L. A. F. Pacheco*

*Corresponding author for this work

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The peopling of the Americas and human interaction with the Pleistocene megafauna in South America remain hotly debated. The Santa Elina rock shelter in Central Brazil shows evidence of successive human settlements from around the last glacial maximum (LGM) to the Early Holocene. Two Pleistocene archaeological layers include rich lithic industry associated with remains of the extinct giant ground sloth Glossotherium phoenesis. The remains include thousands of osteoderms (i.e. dermal bones), three of which were human-modified. In this study, we perform a traceological analysis of these artefacts by optical microscopy, non-destructive scanning electron microscopy, UV/visible photoluminescence and synchrotron-based microtomography. We also describe the spatial association between the giant sloth bone remains and stone tools and provide a Bayesian age model that confirms the timing of this association in two time horizons of the Pleistocene in Santa Elina. The conclusion from our traceological study is that the three giant sloth osteoderms were intentionally modified into artefacts before fossilization of the bones. This provides additional evidence for the contemporaneity of humans and megafauna, and for the human manufacturing of personal artefacts on bone remains of ground sloths, around the LGM in Central Brazil.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20230316
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences
Issue number2002
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jul 2023


  • bone surface modification
  • zooarchaeology
  • palaeometry
  • traceology
  • South America
  • Pleistocene


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