Famous Planet Earth Caves

Volume: 2

Small and Large Cave Bears

Author(s): Cajus G. Diedrich

Pp: 25-61 (37)

DOI: 10.2174/9781681085302117020006

* (Excluding Mailing and Handling)


New field work and studies on 4.910 “cave bear” bones from one of the largest European cave bear dens, the Hermann’s Cave of Rübeland in the Harz Mountains of Saxony-Anhalt in northern Germany, allow the reconstruction of the cave use in different cave areas being limited on the two upper ponor levels by three different cave bear species/subspecies of the Late Pleistocene time, when those areas were already dry. Cave bear polish along many parts on the limestone walls are documented mainly in the Bear Hall area. Partly articulated skeleton remains there and all over the Saalian created ponor level, such as autochthonous bonebeds, indicate nonfluvial transport of bones, because the active Weichselian cave ponor river stream drained at that time already 8-10 meters below. A neonate or Stillborn such as a sibling cave bear skeleton from the Hermann’s Cave Bear and Saal halls and single bones and deciduous teeth are quite abundant in the sediments. The sections and bonebeds are partly dated absolutely with some C14 data of cave bear teeth ranging between 30.761- 43.100 BP. The youngest Uranium dated 24.260 BP old speleothems of the beginning of the climatic change to the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) cover the bonebed in the Bear Hall, which fits to the time of their extinction in Europe around 24.000 BP. Further dating is possible relative-chronologically using cave bear premolar P4 tooth morphotypes C-E and herein new classified three skull shape morphology types A-C in combination with the bone preservation and new section studies. The cave bear den time started most probably already in the Eemian Interglacial MIS 5e, but it was in use mainly in the early-middle Weichselian or Wuermian Glacial (MIS 3-5d). The longbone proportions support the separation between three different sized species” 1. The smallest cave bear Ursus spelaeus eremus (skull shape B, P4 morphotype C), 2. The medium-sized Ursus spelaeus spelaeus (skull shape C, P4 morphotype D), and 3. The largest cave bear Ursus spelaeus ingressus (skull shape D, P4 morphotype E) of the MIS 3 time. Most probably, U. s. spelaeus evolved during the Late Pleistocene into t U. s. ingressus, whereas the smallest U. s. eremus lived with both sympatric all the time in middle high elevated non-alpine European boreal forest mountain regions. Compared to northern American bears, the small cave bears U. s. eremus lived possibly similar as extant black bears, the U. s. spelaeus forms more similar but much more herbivorous as extant grizzly brown bears. U. s. ingressus was full herbivore specialized with its multiple-coned and enlarged tooth cusps. Palaeopathologies on teeth, jaws and postcranial bones are found on all cave bear types and at different age classes. Some bone injuries resulted into trauma bite damage which were caused by other bears or large predators (mainly their canines) from inter- or intraspecies fights. The mortality of cave bears, especially siblings and cubs, is strongly influenced by top predators, Ice Age steppe lions Panthera leo spelaea, Ice Age spotted hyenas Crocuta crocuta spelaea and Ice Age wolves Canis lupus spelaeus. Hyenas and wolves and in much lesser amount to prove lions are the main bite mark and bone damage producers of many cave bear bones. About 80% of the bear siblings and cub bones (3 months to one year in individual ages) have chewed longbone joints or expose bite damage, but are much lesser cracked due to the still soft compacta. Bones of subadults to elderly are only up to 20% large carnivore damaged. Cave bear cubs and siblings were either killed or at least only scavenged by all three top predators, whereas the cub hunting specialization by steppe lions is well known due to nitrogen isotope signs. Chewed/damaged bones in similar bite damage stages classified into three stages including pseudobone flutes with hyena bite impact holes in cave bear cub femorae are found not only in the Hermann's Cave and are known from many other cave bear dens all over Europe. Cave bears of the middle high elevated mountain Boreal forests regions like in the Harz Mountain were the main prey of lions, hyenas and wolves during the Late Pleistocene, as result of the absence of the mammoth steppe big game. Mammoth, rhinoceros, bison or mainly reindeer herds such as Cromagnon human Aurignacien hunters were migrating seasonally from the Harz Mountain Fore Lowlands of northern Germany upstream along the river valleys, such as the Bode Valley, reaching thereby the Hermann's Cave for cave bear hunting deeper in the cave, which is supported in the Bear Hall and Saal Hall.

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