Pit find in Germany reveals how Neanderthals hunted huge elephants | Neanderthals
Neanderthals may have lived in larger groups than previously thought, preying on massive elephants that were three times the size of modern ones, according to a new study.
The researchers reached their findings, published in the journal Science Advances on Wednesday, based on studies of 125,000-year-old straight-tusked elephant skeletal remains found near Halle in central Germany.
The bones of about 70 Pleistocene elephants were discovered in the 1980s in a huge coal pit that has since become an artificial lake.
The elephants of that time were much larger than the woolly mammoth and three times the size of the modern Asian elephant: an adult male could weigh up to 13 tons.
“Hunting these giant animals and slaughtering them completely was part of the life support of the Neanderthals in this place,” study co-author Wil Robbrooks told AFP.
“This is the first clear evidence of elephant hunting in human evolution,” said Robruks, a professor of archeology at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands.
The study suggests that Neanderthals, who lived in the area between 2,000 and 4,000 years ago, were less mobile and formed social units “substantially larger than commonly thought.”
“Neanderthals weren’t simple slaves of nature, real hippies living off the land,” Robrux said.
“They actually shaped their environment with fire…and also had a big impact on the biggest animals that were in the world at the time.”
The researchers determined that the elephants were hunted rather than simply harvested due to the age and sex profile of the remains found in the quarry.
Most of them were men, and there were few young or old.
“This is a typical choice for hunters who hunt for the biggest prey,” Robrux said.
Adult male elephants would be easier to hunt than female elephants, who tend to move in herds to protect their young. “While adult males are solitary most of the time,” Robrux said. “So it is easier to immobilize them, driving them into mud and pit traps.
“And these are the biggest calorie bombs that are walking through these landscapes.”
The researchers said that Neanderthals were able to store the huge amount of food provided by a single elephant for several months.
“On average, a male elephant weighing about 10 tons would provide at least 2,500 daily rations for an adult Neanderthal,” Robrux said.
“They could handle it either by keeping it for longer periods of time – that’s something we didn’t know – or simply by the fact that they lived in much larger groups than we usually assume.”
The researchers said that Neanderthals butchered animals with flint tools that left clear marks on well-preserved bones.
“These are classic cuts that are formed by slicing and scraping meat off the bones,” Robrux said.
Traces of charcoal fires used by Neanderthals have also been found, suggesting that they may have dried meat by hanging it on hangers and lighting a fire under it.
Robbrooks said that while the study provides evidence that Neanderthals lived in large social units, it’s hard to gauge exactly how big those groups really were.
“But if you have a 10-ton elephant and you want to process this animal before it rots, you need about 20 people to finish it in a week,” he said.