Neanderthals hunted cave lions with wooden spears some 48,000 years ago

Neanderthals hunted big cats with wooden spears as early as 48,000 years ago — and may have used the animal’s pelt.

This is the conclusion of an international team of researchers who studied the skeletal remains of a cave lion (Pathera spelaea) unearthed in the German municipality of Siegsdorf back in 1985.

Signs of a newly-identified puncture wound on the inside of one of the lion’s ribs suggest that a spear was used to kill the animal.

At the same time, cut marks across some of the lion’s bones — including two ribs, some vertebrae, and the left femur — suggest that the archaic humans butchered the feline.

The findings shine a light on the nature of the interactions between cave lions and Neanderthals, which have long been unclear — despite the big cat featuring prominently in cave paintings made by other ancient Homo sapiens.

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The study was undertaken by zooarchaeologist Gabriele Russo of the University of Tübingen in Germany and his colleagues.

The team said: “Hominins have been interacting with lions since their arrival in Europe, and possibly even earlier.

“The big cat held perceptible significance for Upper Paleolithic Homo sapiens groups in Europe.”

For example, they added, this is “well illustrated in the Aurignacian by the cave lion depictions in caves of south-eastern France, ivory sculptures including the famous Löwenmensch (Lion man) and figurines from the Swabian Jura’s deposits, and perforated cave lion canines worn as personal ornaments.

“Despite the archaeological record demonstrating the importance of the cave lion to our species, it remains unclear how other human species interacted with this apex predator, beyond interspecies competition.”

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Analysis of the remains suggests that the animal was an old, medium-sized cave lion.

Based on the angled nature of the puncture wound, the researchers believe that the spear entered the lion’s abdomen from the left, penetrating vital organs before hitting the third rib.

The damage to the bone shares characteristics with those previously identified on deer vertebrae that have been determined to have been formed by Neanderthal spears.

The team also analysed bones from the toes and lower limbs of three other cave lion specimens, unearthed in Einhornhöhle, Germany, in 2019 and that date back to around 45–55,000 years ago.

These bones also exhibit cut marks consistent with the animal having been skinned — with care having apparently been taken to ensure the claws remained preserved in the pelt.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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