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Neanderthals hunted huge elephants that fed 100 individuals for a month



The extinct straight-tusked elephant was even bigger than trendy African elephants, making it unclear if Neanderthal hunters might take one down, however a newly analysed trove of bones suggests it was potential


1 February 2023

A reconstruction of the straight-tusked elephant


Neanderthals often hunted and butchered elephants in Europe hundreds of years in the past, in line with an evaluation of marks made by stone instruments on a trove of bones.

The discover suggests the traditional people both lived in bigger teams than beforehand suspected or that that they had methods of processing the flesh so it didn’t spoil, says Wil Roebroeks at Leiden College within the Netherlands, given the quantity of meat concerned. “These elephants are really big calorie bombs.”

There has lengthy been debate over whether or not Neanderthals, distant cousins of recent people, might have hunted the straight-tusked elephants (Palaeoloxodon antiquus). These extinct giants stood 4 metres tall, making them bigger than trendy African elephants and woolly mammoths.

To search out out extra, Roebroeks’s workforce took a more in-depth take a look at elephant bones discovered alongside different animal stays and stone instruments in a quarry close to Halle, Germany, which was dug out from the Eighties. The bones have been dated to about 125,000 years in the past, when Neanderthals have been the one people identified to be within the space.

The stays have been from greater than 70 elephants, with a number of discovered as practically full skeletons. The marks left on the bones counsel the animals have been completely butchered to acquire each final scrap of meat and fats – together with, for example their brains and the entire cumbersome fats pads of their toes.

There have been additionally few gnaw marks left by scavenging carnivores, suggesting little meals was left on the carcass. “There’s maybe a bit of nibbling on isolated vertebra, but most of these remains were so clean they weren’t attractive for carnivores,” says workforce member Lutz Kindler on the Museum for Human Behavioural Evolution in Neuwied, Germany.

The workforce has calculated that every one the flesh from one of many elephants would have fed about 100 adults for a month. Some researchers have beforehand recommended that Neanderthals lived in pretty small teams of as much as about 25 individuals, primarily based on components equivalent to the scale of their caves or evaluation of their footprints. “There’s a perception they lived in small groups, but when you look for the evidence, there’s nothing,” says Clive Finlayson on the Gibraltar Nationwide Museum, who wasn’t concerned within the new examine.

If a smaller group of, say, 25 individuals had killed an elephant, they might have needed to spend about three to 5 days working to strip the carcass of flesh and processing it in order that it wouldn’t spoil, for example by drying or smoking it, says Roebroeks. The marks on the bones imply the meat wasn’t merely left to rot as soon as the Neanderthals had eaten their fill.

The workforce discovered the next proportion of male and older elephants among the many stays, suggesting that the Neanderthals have been particularly focusing on these animals, relatively than scavenging from ones that had died of pure causes.

This makes some sense, as in trendy elephants older males are inclined to dwell alone. Concentrating on loners would making looking simpler, says Roebroeks, as they could possibly be pushed into traps or muddy shores. “Large mammals are [easier] to kill as long as you are able to limit their mobility, and then they are finished off with spears,” he says.

Earlier work has proven that Neanderthals might have cleared forests within the area the place the bones have been discovered, which additionally helps the concept they lived in bigger teams.

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