Monday 2 May 2011
The first humans may have had to battle the beasts to claim their living space. The study to be published in the Journal of Archaeological Science sheds light on how cavemen conquered the bears, leading to their extinction.
The French researchers looked back more than 32,000 years ago, when humans began to use caves as their habitats. The Chauvet cave is one of the most prominent ancient caves to have been discovered, and researcher Celine Bon and her team have found evidence that both bears and humans used the cave for shelter — though they did most likely did not coexist. They studied the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc and Deux-Ouvertures caves and found that the battle may have resulted in a trade-off. The bears are thought to have lived in the caves during winter hibernation, while humans took over the domain in the summer. But it appears that the humans were eventually able to overpower the cavebears.
Caves are reservoirs of fossils, some of which belong to species now extinct. Paleogenetics explores ancient DNA that may have survived in these fossils to better understand the phylogeny of Pleistocene species and the paleoenvironment. The Chauvet-Pont d’Arc Cave, which displays the earliest known human drawings, contains thousands of animal remains, setting this cave as a mine for genetic analysis. We focused on the extinct cave bear, Ursus spelaeus, and proved that Chauvet-Pont d’Arc samples still contain enough DNA for genetic studies. One of them yielded well-preserved DNA and allowed sequencing the complete cave bear mitochondrial genome. The researchers used this molecular information to establish bear phylogeny and the tempo of Ursidae speciation. Widening their analysis to cave bears samples from Chauvet-Pont d’Arc and a closely located cave, they showed that the Pleistocene ursine population was highly homogeneous at the regional level.
See online : The Chauvet-Pont d’Arc Cave