Hyenas Stash 7,000 Years of Bones in Lava Tubes

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Researchers uncovered the remains in the Umm Jirsan lava tube in Saudi Arabia. (Stewart et al. / Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, 2021)

Hyenas Hoarded Thousands of Human, Animal Bones in Saudi Arabian Lava Tube

by Isis Davis-Marks/Smithsonianmag.com

Archaeologists in northwestern Saudi Arabia have unearthed a massive collection of bones likely stockpiled by striped hyenas over the past 7,000 years.

Found in the Umm Jirsan lava tube system—a sprawling network of tunnels formed by volcanic activity—the hundreds of thousands of bones belong to at least 14 kinds of animals, including cattle, caprids, horses, camels, rodents and even humans. The researchers’ findings are newly published in the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences.

Lead author Mathew Stewart, a zooarchaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany, tells Gizmodo’s Isaac Schultz that the team identified hyenas as the culprits after analyzing cuts, bites and digestion marks found on the bones.

“Striped hyena are very avid accumulators of bones,” Stewart says.

Researchers have been investigating the site, which is located in the country’s Harrat Khaybar lava field, since 2007. But they only ventured into the cavern’s depths a few months ago. (Per Gizmodo, another group of archaeologists reported hearing possible hyena snarls in the tubes, prompting them to keep their distance.)

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