What happened to the cave bear, one of the largest species of mammals extinct by the end of the last ice age? This is a question that has never had definite answers but now a team of researchers from various European institutions, including the University of Zurich, suggests what could be the solution to the riddle.
In a study published in Scientific Reports, the researchers deduce that it was not the climatic effects of the ice age itself that made these bears extinct thousands of years ago, but it was humans.
Analyzing the mitochondrial DNA of 59 remains of cave bears from various European areas, the researchers learned that the populations of these animals began to fall in number before the beginning of the last ice age, or 40,000 years ago.
Furthermore, the same researchers deduced that the bears of previous generations had already managed to overcome the other ice ages without significant population decreases. At the same time we know that modern humans began to populate the areas in which these bear populations lived about 40,000 years ago, all information that suggests that it was precisely the arrival of modern humans to decree its end.
The same researchers also confirmed that in these times even Neanderthals lived in these areas. However, the latter had lived with cave bears for tens of thousands of years and it is therefore unlikely that they were responsible for extinction. This may also mean that modern humans had much more effective and lethal hunting techniques than Neanderthals.
Cave bears were hunted not only for food but also for furs or to eliminate potential competitors in the use of the caves themselves as a dwelling.
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