I am pleased that research is continuing at Taung. The bee’s nest is indeed fascinating, and the authors did an excellent job in their detailed description. However, they take the interpretation way too far. If they had given the exact location of their sample, I could say more, having discovered the Dart deposits and excavated them over the course of many years.
It is astonishing and disappointing that neither of my recent papers were cited in this work, although they were published well before the submission date of the PLoS One paper, and sent to some of the authors. The authors made no attempt to provide a counter-point to my arguments, which I would have welcomed. That is how science moves forward. It is unproductive to present material in a vacuum where highly relevant publications are ignored.
As for the Dart deposits, the former alleged roof was blown off by quarry operations, but there are 17 other fossil sites in the Taung tufa, all of which are cave sites of one form or another, and most of which still have a roof in evidence.
The consideration here is that in this environment one would need a sheltered area for bones to be preserved and fossilized. I remember my locally hired workers at Taung, talking among themselves, and then telling me that they were puzzled as to why we were finding so many fossil baboons in our fossil sites. None of them had ever seen a dead baboon, excepting ones trapped or shot, but certainly none just lying on the ground. That is because the carcasses do not last long in the open due to scavengers, maggots, etc. The elements quickly break down the bones as well, as there is no means of the quick deposition that would be necessary to cover and protect the bones. Although it could conceivably happen that they got buried quickly in the open, it would be extremely rare. Moreover, in such a circumstance, one would not expect to find bones of a number of different animals in such close proximity.
So the cave paradigm remains the most rational, but I wish my friends the will and evidence to prove me wrong.
JK McKee Home page