Fossil struthionid eggshells from Laetoli, Tanzania: Taxonomic and biostratigraphic significance

Terry Harrison, Charles P. Msuya

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Recent paleontological investigations at Laetoli and neighboring localities in northern Tanzania have produced a large collection of fossil ostrich eggshells from the Pliocene-aged Laetolil Beds (∼3.5-4.5 Ma) and Ndolanya Beds (∼2.6-2.7 Ma). A detailed analysis of the morphology of the eggshells and their taxonomic affinities indicates that two different species of Struthio are represented. In the Lower Laetolil Beds and in the Upper Laetolil Beds below Tuff 3 a new species is recognized - Struthio kakesiensis. This is replaced in the Upper Laetolil Beds by Struthio camelus, the modern species of ostrich. Since radiometric age determinations are available for the stratigraphic sequence at Laetoli, it is possible to precisely date the first appearance of S. camelus at ∼3.6-3.8 Ma. Comparisons of the Laetoli material with specimens from the well-dated sequences at Lothagam and Kanapoi in northern Kenya, allow the taxonomic and biochronological analysis to be extended back in time to the late Miocene. At about 6.5 Ma, Diamantornis and elephant birds were replaced in East Africa by ostriches belonging to the genus Struthio. Three time-successive species of ostriches are identified in the fossil record of East Africa, beginning with Struthio. cf. karingarabensis (∼6.5-4.2 Ma), followed by S. kakesiensis (∼4.5-3.6 Ma) and then S. camelus (∼3.8 Ma onwards). A similar sequence of taxa has previously been recorded from localities in Namibia, but at these sites there is no possibility to precisely calibrate the ages of the different species using radiometric dating. Nevertheless, the broadly similar evolutionary sequence and the close correspondence in inferred ages for the succession of species in East Africa and Namibia suggest that ostrich eggshells are a very useful tool for biochronological correlation of paleontological sites in sub-Saharan Africa.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)303-315
    Number of pages13
    JournalJournal of African Earth Sciences
    Issue number4
    StatePublished - Apr 2005


    • Biochronology
    • Eggshells
    • Laetoli
    • Pliocene
    • Struthio
    • Taxonomy

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Geology
    • Earth-Surface Processes


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