Ancient bones recovered from archaeological sites in Germany suggest that ancient humans were skinning bears at least 320,000 years ago.
Markings on the phalanges and metatarsals of cave bears (Ursus spelaeus Also U. Deningeri) represents some of the earliest known evidence of this type and demonstrates one of the means used by our ancient relatives to survive the harsh winter conditions of the region at the time. increase.
“Exploitation of bears, especially cave bears, has been an ongoing debate for more than a century and is not only related to the context of hominin diets, but also to skin use,” said a study led by archaeologist Ivo Verheijen. The team writes for the University of Tübingen, Germany.
“Tracing the origins of leather exploitation may contribute to our understanding of survival strategies in the cold and harsh conditions of mid-Pleistocene northwestern Europe.”
Area around German town Schöningen It has been of interest to archaeologists for decades. In the 1990s, researchers discovered a pile of ancient artifacts from a nearby open-pit mine. This included the oldest complete wooden weapon ever discovered, a set of 300,000 to his 337,000-year-old spears.
Other items included stone tools, bone tools, and numerous animal bones, including cave bears. And many of these bones had cuts. This shows that ancient humans butchered animals and used their tools to goug out the bones.
But the bone cuts on the two legs were interesting. Not only were they small and precise, but the fact that they were there caused the investigation.
“Bone cuts are often interpreted in archaeology as indicating the use of meat,” explains Verheijen. “But very little meat can be recovered from the bones of the limbs. In this case, we can assume that such fine and precise cuts are the result of careful peeling of the skin.”
They compared their bones to other examples of bear paw bone cuts analyzed in the scientific literature and ultimately attributed them to skinning.Bone cuts found at Schöningen indicate that Verheijen and his team identified an ancient human (or Homo heidelbergensis or Neanderthals) were skinning bears when the site was in use.
This may have provided people with better protection than relatively hairless hides. Bears have thick coats during the warmest months. In winter, it is complemented by the growth of a soft undercoat that provides additional insulation against the cold.
“These newly discovered cuts show that about 300,000 years ago, people in northern Europe were able to survive the winter thanks to warm bear skins,” says Verheijen.
This naturally raises the question of how the skins were obtained. Waiting for a den bear to die isn’t a useful strategy, as the bear’s skin needs to be peeled off soon after it dies in order to be usable. Luckily, bones and weapons found at the scene suggest an answer.
“If you only find adult animals at a site, this is usually taken as a sign of hunting,” says Verheijen. “In Schöningen, all bear bones and teeth were adult.”
Taken together, therefore, the remaining bears in Schöningen suggest that humans hunted and skinned them for their luxurious fur. Exactly how they used these furs is open to speculation, but researchers say it’s unlikely that such a group of humans would have walked around naked. Therefore, their hides may have been used either for wearing or for sleeping.
This research Journal of Human Evolution.