The ban of the cave bear

Related Articles

Related Articles

At 3.5 meters long and with a shoulder height of 1.7 meters, the cave bear was one of the giants of the Ice Age. Yet few appear to have survived until the last glacial maximum 24,000 to 19,000 years ago.

Researchers from Germany, Italy and Canada have conducted analyses to find out what likely caused the extinction of these large herbivores.

It is believed that the renewed cooling of the climate and hunting by humans ‒ added to the bears’ purely vegetarian diet ‒ increased the pressure on this megafauna species. Professor Hervé Bocherens of the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen took part in the study, which examined cave bear bones using the latest methods. The results of the study have been published in Historical Biology.

 

Cave bears (Ursus spelaeus) lived in Europe during the Ice Age some 400,000 years ago and died out some 24,000 years ago. They were much larger than their closest remaining relatives, the brown bears, yet they were far less of a threat to humans. In an earlier study, the researchers analyzed the isotopes in collagen extracted from cave bear bones to show that the bears followed a vegan lifestyle.

But it remained a mystery as to why they disappeared just as the climate was cooling again. Paleogenetic investigations showed that a population decline of cave bears took place around 50,000 years ago, coinciding with the replacement of Neanderthals by anatomically modern humans in Europe. Together with findings of cave bear bones with butchery marks made by humans or even stone spear heads embedded in their bones showing evidence of hunting, this suggested that cave bears declined and became extinct because of human exploitation.

In several regions of Europe, cave bears disappeared well before the start of the last glacial maximum. However, some cave bear populations seem to have survived until 24,000 years ago – with one in northeastern Italy whose more recent dates suggest it was the last to die out. The researchers used bones from that location for the current study. They dated the bones using the latest methods and compared the bears’ diet with that of older populations. They also looked for signs of hunting and butchery by humans.

The new radiocarbon dating confirmed that these cave bears lived as late as 24,000 years ago, after the start of the last glacial maximum. The bones also revealed evidence of hunting and butchery by humans. Isotopic analyses showed that the bears still did not eat meat, despite the colder climate.

Hervé Bocherens suggests this lack of adaptability and the pressures of hunting by humans may have increased the stress on the cave bears ‒ such that they could no longer survive in a harsher climate. “It was likely this combination of climatic and anthropogenic factors which led to their extinction,” he says.

Universitaet Tübingen

Header Image: Cave Bear – Image Credit – CC License – Benutzer Ra’ike

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic

LATEST NEWS

Pace of Prehistoric Human Innovation Could be Revealed by ‘Linguistic Thermometer’

Multi-disciplinary researchers at The University of Manchester have helped develop a powerful physics-based tool to map the pace of language development and human innovation over thousands of years - even stretching into pre-history before records were kept.

Study Sheds New Light on the Behaviour of the Giant Carnivorous Dinosaur Spinosaurus

New research from Queen Mary University of London and the University of Maryland, has reignited the debate around the behaviour of the giant dinosaur Spinosaurus.

New Skull of Tube-Crested Dinosaur Reveals Evolution of Bizarre Crest

The first new skull of a rare species of the dinosaur Parasaurolophus (recognized by the large hollow tube that grows on its head) discovered in 97 years.

Women Influenced Coevolution of Dogs and Humans

In a cross-cultural analysis, Washington State University researchers found several factors may have played a role in building the mutually beneficial relationship between humans and dogs, including temperature, hunting and surprisingly - gender.

Dinosaur Embryo Helps Crack Baby Tyrannosaur Mystery

They are among the largest predators ever to walk the Earth, but experts have discovered that some baby tyrannosaurs were only the size of a Border Collie dog when they took their first steps.

First People to Enter the Americas Likely Did so With Their Dogs

The first people to settle in the Americas likely brought their own canine companions with them, according to new research which sheds more light on the origin of dogs.

Climate Change in Antiquity: Mass Emigration Due to Water Scarcity

The absence of monsoon rains at the source of the Nile was the cause of migrations and the demise of entire settlements in the late Roman province of Egypt.

Archaeologists Discover Bas-Relief of Golden Eagle at Aztec Templo Mayor

A team of archaeologists from the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (INAH) have announced the discovery of a bas-relief depicting an American golden eagle (aquila chrysaetos canadensis).

Popular stories

Exploring the Stonehenge Landscape

The Stonehenge Landscape contains over 400 ancient sites, that includes burial mounds known as barrows, Woodhenge, the Durrington Walls, the Stonehenge Cursus, the Avenue, and surrounds the monument of Stonehenge which is managed by English Heritage.

The Iron Age Tribes of Britain

The British Iron Age is a conventional name to describe the independent Iron Age cultures that inhabited the mainland and smaller islands of present-day Britain.

The Roman Conquest of Wales

The conquest of Wales began in either AD 47 or 48, following the landing of Roman forces in Britannia sent by Emperor Claudius in AD 43.

Vallum Antonini – The Antonine Wall

The Antonine Wall (Vallum Antonini) was a defensive wall built by the Romans in present-day Scotland, that ran for 39 miles between the Firth of Forth, and the Firth of Clyde (west of Edinburgh along the central belt).