A new zooarchaeological study has recently revealed that human-carnivore interactions in central Europe were quite frequent 30-20 thousand years ago. People regularly hunted wolves, foxes, bears and lions for consumption, ornament or ceremonial uses, and to reduce competition for prey and snatch their shelters.
Hunter-gatherer societies in central Europe shared their landscapes with several species of carnivores and frequently hunted them. This reconstruction in the life of early human communities was possible thanks to recent archaeological discoveries of carnivore bones in hunter-gatherers’ sites in Czech Republic, Austria, Poland and Slovakia, by an international team of researchers1.
Most of the bones that the researchers found belonged to wolves, suggesting that this animal was particularly targeted by hunters. A possible reason for this is that wolves may have been seen as direct competitors for prey.
Other bones belonged to smaller carnivores such as foxes and larger ones such as bears and lions, the latter of which were ultimately driven to extinction by an uncurbed hunting pressure. In their paper published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, the researchers highlight that the particular finding of a bear’s thoracic vertebra with an embedded flint projectile is exceptionally exciting as it’s “irrefutable proof” of cave bear hunting. This type of hunting was possibly employed to take hold of the bear’s cave and use it for shelter.
When people left their sites, carnivores often visited them, as the bones found therein by the researchers occasionally had chew marks on them. This was possibly a valuable scavenger activity for the carnivores as the large amount of bones found at human settlements leads the researchers to believe that people often brought entire carcasses back to their sites for processing and consumption. Human settlements were thus rich in animal remains and provided great scavenging feasts.
The abundant carnivore remains consistently found at human sites implies that European hunter-gatherers “were capable of successfully hunting even the largest carnivores, the bears and lions [, and that their killing] was certainly not accidental but intentional”, the authors of the research paper say. That being the case, the carnivores likely held important meanings for the hunter-gatherers aside being considered a food source. Demonstrably, bones and teeth were also utilised to make tools and personal ornaments. Moreover, the representation of carnivores in cave art indicates that these animals were of deep cultural and spiritual significance to these communities.
This study sheds lights on the sheer complexity of the relationships between people and carnivore, which still surface today and are tendentiously referred to as “human-carnivore conflicts” in conservation.
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- Wojtal, P., Svoboda, J., Roblíčková, M. and Wilczyński, J., 2020. Carnivores in the everyday life of Gravettian hunters-gatherers in Central Europe. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 59, p.101171. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaa.2020.101171
Cover image credits: https://bit.ly/2XGWu1u