Over the past Ice Age, greater than 100 cave bears died in Imanay Cave, a 100-meter-long hall of stone in Russia’s southern Ural Mountains. The useless bears, together with a cave lion and some different Pleistocene mammals, left behind practically 10,000 bones, which have principally worn right down to small fragments over the millennia. Most of them have been so-called small cave bears, Ursus spelaeus eremus, notable for being smaller than the so-called giant cave bear, Ursus spelaeus—and for his or her obvious behavior of dying en masse whereas hibernating by means of the cruel Pleistocene winters, forsaking large assemblages of bones for contemporary paleontologists to search out.
A lot of the cave bear bones present in Eurasia, together with those at Imanay Cave, present no indicators of violence, butchering, or gnawing. They appear to have died quietly, maybe of chilly, hunger, or sickness. However whereas cleansing one cave bear cranium from Imanay, Dmitry Gimranov of the Ural Department of the Russian Academy of Sciences and his colleagues seen a quite suspicious gap within the parietal bone, close to the again of the cranium.
The decrease fringe of the outlet is a mild curve with a flattened base, whereas the higher edge is extra uneven and widens sharply within the center. Its form is strikingly just like the cross-section of stone projectile factors unearthed in the identical layer of cave sediment as a lot of the bear bones. These factors are inclined to have a flat ventral (or decrease) aspect and a extra curved dorsal (or higher) aspect with a pointy rib of stone sticking up alongside the middle. And so they’re about the identical measurement as the outlet within the bear cranium.
“Matching the part and measurement of the factors and the outlet on the bear’s cranium permits [us] to imagine that the beast was hit with simply such a weapon,” wrote Gimranov and his colleagues. “Almost definitely, the spike was used as a spearhead.” (They printed their work within the Russian journal Vestnik Archeologii, Anthropologii, I Ethnographii, however you’ll be able to learn an English summary right here; copy-and-pasting excerpts of the Russian paper into Google Translate additionally yields very readable outcomes.)
It was clearly a robust blow. The spearhead pierced the bear’s cranium and left its mark on the encircling bone. “The partitions of the outlet are chipped, seen on the floor quite a few flat aspects directed from the outlet alongside the floor of the bone, in addition to by means of cracks getting in the identical path,” wrote Gimranov and his colleagues. “The described options of the outlet point out its apparent synthetic origin in a really robust influence with a tough object.”
If Gimranov and his colleagues are appropriate, that would imply that an individual killed not less than one of many 110 useless small cave bears in Imanay Cave.
Loaded for bear
That’s not as shocking because it sounds—there’s some proof of individuals killing and even butchering different bear species, like giant cave bears and brown bears, through the Pleistocene. As an illustration, archaeologists have discovered the bones of about two dozen giant cave bears at websites scattered throughout Eurasia; many have the telltale cut-and-scrape marks of defleshing, and one even has the tip of a stone projectile nonetheless lodged in a vertebra.
After all, that’s a number of dozen out of actually hundreds of thousands of bear bones unearthed at Pleistocene websites throughout Europe and western Asia. We in all probability shouldn’t image Pleistocene hunters going after bears as prey frequently. However the want for shelter from the weather in all probability introduced individuals and bears into contact alarmingly typically.
“Caves attracted not solely animals, but additionally people,” wrote Gimranov and his colleagues. “Discovering the bones of cave bears and artifacts collectively is kind of frequent.” At Imanay Cave, as an example, archaeologists discovered stone instruments from the Mousterian tradition, in addition to bits of charcoal and ocher, in the identical sediment layers because the bear bones. That’s pretty frequent at different websites in Eurasia, too. And in a single French cave, relationship to across the identical age as Imanay Cave, individuals buried their useless in deserted bear nests. In different caves, individuals and bears nearly appeared to take turns, with human footprints overlapping bear tracks and vice versa.
So though you’d should be loopy or determined to hunt cave bears for dinner frequently, it’s cheap to take a position that folks attempting to outlive the Ice Age could generally have survived shock encounters with disgruntled bears or scavenged the meat from freshly useless carcasses. If Gimranov and his colleagues are proper in regards to the Imanay Cave bear cranium, not less than one Pleistocene hunter had one heck of a bear story to inform.
Paws for reflection
Sadly, we will not be taught the actually thrilling particulars of that story, however right here’s what we are able to piece collectively from the out there proof: radiocarbon relationship materials from the bone reveals that the encounter occurred roughly 35,000 years in the past. The damaged bone didn’t have time to start out therapeutic, which means that the damage occurred proper across the time of dying. And calcite deposits had time to kind within the cracks and aspects across the gap, which suggests the cranium spent a really very long time buried within the cave after the harm was achieved; in different phrases, the harm occurred earlier than burial, not throughout.
Based mostly on the variety of development layers within the root of 1 molar, the bear was in all probability between 9 and 10 years outdated when it died. Bear enamel develop new layers twice a 12 months, through the summer time and through the winter. By counting these layers, Gimranov and his colleagues concluded that the bear died through the winter, when it could most definitely have been curled up within the cave hibernating. That state of affairs appears to match the situation of the stab wound: behind the bear’s cranium, close to the bottom, as if the one who did the stabbing was standing behind and above the bear.
It’s not too exhausting to image a Pleistocene particular person wandering right into a cave, possibly searching for shelter, and stumbling throughout a dozing bear, then stabbing it in a second of panic. That’s pure hypothesis, in fact. Gimranov and his colleagues additionally recommend the harm could have been achieved after the bear died as a part of a ritual, however there isn’t any different proof of formality exercise within the cave, and no different bear skulls appear to have been stabbed.
Vestnik Archeologii, Anthropologii, I Ethnographii, 2021 DOI: 10.1020874/2071-0437-2021-53-2-1; (About DOIs).