Ice Age Humans Likely Played Major Role in Cave Bears’ Extinction
by Meilan Solly Smithsonian.com
Giant cave bears weighing up to 2,000 pounds roamed the European continent for more than 100,000 years. But around 20,000 years ago, the species—officially known as Ursus spelaeus—died out under still-mysterious and oft-debated circumstances.
A new study published in the journal Scientific Reports outlines a convincing explanation for the cave bear’s demise. As Tim Vernimmen reports for National Geographic, researchers led by the University of Zurich’s Verena Schünemann used mitochondrial DNA from 59 cave bears’ remains to date the start of the species’ decline to some 40,000 years ago—long before the advent of the last ice age but right around the time that modern humans began settling in Europe.
The team’s findings support one of two leading theories regarding the animal’s downfall, suggesting that Homo sapiens, as opposed to climate change, largely precipitated the end of the cave bear.
“If not for our arrival in Europe, I don’t see any reason why cave bears should not be around today,” study co-author Hervé Bocherens of Germany’s University of Tübingen tells Vernimmen.