Paleolithic people hunted different animals. But if animal bones are found at the site of Paleolithic people, this does not necessarily mean the result of a successful hunt. The bones could be taken from a deceased animal to use in rituals or to make some kind of jewelry out of them. If the animal is killed while hunting, specific traces should remain on the bones.
In the case of cave bears, hunting marks on their bones are very rare. For example, many bones of cave bears have been found in Europe, but for millions of finds there are only 20-30 bones with traces of felling – that is, those from which the meat was removed. And there is only one vertebra in which a stone spearhead is stuck. Moreover, all these remains belong to large cave bears. However, in addition to the big cave bear, at the same time there was also a small one who lived in the steppes and did not like caves. Until recently, there was no evidence of hunting of a small cave bear by ancient people.
In 2015, the skull of a small cave bear with an interesting hole in the skull was found in the Imanai Cave, Bashkiria. The hole could be either natural or artificial. In the first case, for example, a stone could fall on the bear’s head, or water dripped onto the skull for thousands of years. But, according to paleontologists from the Ural Federal University (UrFU) and the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, such an origin of the hole is unlikely, and, most likely, ancient people killed the bear.
But in order to establish exactly whether the bear was killed, you need to find out when the hole was made – during life or after the death of the animal. Here, researchers conducted an experiment that usually helps to identify traces of mammoth hunting. Paleontologists pierced the heads of recently killed bears and dried skulls of ordinary brown bears aged 3, 20 and 3-4 thousand years old with spears. The brown skull and the caveman’s skull are similar in shape and bone density, so the skull of one may well replace the other in the experiment. They prepared 10 heads and skulls of young and old, large and small bears, as they tried to calculate all the options.
The skulls were beaten with spears, the points for which were made according to the “Paleolithic” method – with the help of a chipper made of quartzite pebbles, that is, from the same material from which the points of ancient spears were made. The new tips were compared with the original ones: they matched the character of the warhead, profile, and cross-section. Then they were fixed on dried shafts in much the same way as ancient people did – and beaten on bear skulls.
Having carefully studied the shape of the holes formed, cracks and chips in the bones, as well as traces left on the tips themselves, the researchers came to the conclusion that the ancient bear was killed with an accurate blow to the parietal bone. The tip penetrated 2 cm into the brain (bone thickness – about 3 mm), which was enough for a quick death. Thus, the skull from the Imanai cave became the first (and so far the only) evidence of the hunting of small cave bears by ancient people.
Based on materials from the press service of UrFU.
Source: Автономная некоммерческая организация "Редакция журнала «Наука и жизнь»" by www.nkj.ru.
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