Saturday 22 July 2017

Humans may have hunted prehistoric cave lions for pelts

La Garma cave in northern Spain, where scientists found evidence of stone age humans hunting cave lions for their pelts (PA/Public Library of Science)
La Garma cave in northern Spain, where scientists found evidence of stone age humans hunting cave lions for their pelts (PA/Public Library of Science)

Prehistoric humans may have hunted cave lions for their pelts and contributed to their extinction, scientists believe.

The Eurasian cave lion, which was up to 10% bigger than the modern lion, once roamed across northern European countries including the UK, but vanished around 14,000 years ago.

Scientists are still not certain why the big cat disappeared. While humans from this time period are known to have pursued other carnivores, evidence of lion hunting is sparse.

Now a study of fossilised cave lion toe bones from La Garma cave in northern Spain has indicated they were once part of a single lion pelt that may have been laid on the floor.

Most of the bones showed signs of cut and scraping marks left by stone tools. A specialised technique appears to have been used similar to that employed by modern hunters when skinning to keep an animal's claws attached to its fur.

La Garma is known to have been associated with human rituals, and cave lions may have had symbolic significance for those occupying the cave.

Marian Cueto, from the University of Cantabria in Spain, and her team describe the finds in the journal Public Library of Science ONE.

The researchers concluded: " This site is one of the few that provides Pleistocene examples of lion exploitation by humans. Our archaeo-zoological study suggests that lion-specialised pelt exploitation and use might have been related to ritual activities . Moreover, the specimens also represent the southern-most European and the latest evidence of cave lion exploitation in Iberia.

"Therefore, the study seeks to provide alternative explanations for lion extinction in Eurasia and argues for a role of hunting as a factor to take into account."

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