A prehistoric species of bear lived in Europe, Russia and the middle east during the Pleistocene. It became extinct around 24,000 years ago during the Last Glacial Maximum and during the growth of cave sites from humans and neanderthals.
Both the word cave and the scientific name spelaeus are used because fossils of this species were mostly found in caves. Opposed to the brown bear, which usually only uses caves for hibernation.
Common descriptive characteristics include: Steep forehead, with big nose and snout. They had a strong body with longer top of limbs than say a black or brown bear.
Similar to brown bears. Cave bears were 2 m (6.6 ft) in length. The average weight for males was 350 to 600 kg and 770 to 1,320 lb. Some found had claimed to be 1,000 kg (2,200 lb). Females weighed 225 to 250 kg (495 to 550 lb).
To adjust to temperature changes, during glaciations cave bears grew larger.
Male cave bear skeletons have been found with broken bacula, probably due to fighting during the breeding season.
Cave bear longevity is unknown, though it has been estimated that they seldom exceeded twenty years of age.
Identification versus polar and kodiak bears
Cave bear humerus and femora bones on females were similar in size to polar bears.
In his book: Newly Discovered Zoolites of Scientific classification Unknown Four Footed Animals, Cave bear skeletons were first described in 1774 by Johann Friedrich Esper.
While scientists at the time considered that the Chordata skeletons could belong to Phylum: apes, canids, felids, or even dragons or unicorns, and??
Esper postulated that they actually belonged to polar bears.
Twenty years later, Johann Ursus anatomis at Leipzig university gave the species its Binomial name.
Where were the bones found?
Heinrichshöhle in Hemer; and, the Dechenhöhle in Iserlohn, Germany. Kletno Bear Cave, in Poland. Bears Cave, in Romania. In Georgia. A couple of years ago a full skeleton was found preserved even with its nose intact, by reindeer herders in Russia, on Bolshoy Lyakhovsky Island. And, many others.
Keep or throw away?
During wold war 1, with the scarity of phosphates, used for weapons, fuel and survival. While searching for phosphate sources, cave bear bones were so numerous that most had little regard. Scientists, miners, military technicians, and others payed little attention from the caves where cave bear bones occurred because of there rich source of phosphates. Though some often kept or snuck away with the larger skulls or femur bones that were intact.
The last common ancestor of cave and brown bears lived between 1.2–1.4 Mya. The cave bear was thought to be ascended from the plio-pleistocene etruscan bear. Ursus etruscus that lived about 5.3 Mya to 100,000 years ago. And, Deninger’s bear, ursus deningeri, a species restricted to pleistocene Europe about 1.8 Mya to 100,000 years ago.
Cave bear teeth were very large, and show greater wear than most modern bear species, suggesting a diet of tough materials and plants. They even had two large back molars instead of three smaller ones.
Paleontologists doubt full grown cave bears had predators, save for pack-hunting wolves and cave hyenas, which would probably have attacked the sick or smaller ones.
Did you know? Deep in cave bear dens, presence of fully articulated adult cave lion skeletons, indicates the cats may have occasionally entered to prey on hibernated bears, with some dying in the attempt.
Range and habitat
Cave bears ihabited low mountainous areas, espeially in regions rich in limestone caves. Territory ranged from Spain and Ireland in the west, to Italy, Germany, Poland, Romania, Georgia, and parts of Russia, including northern Iran. During these times, many northern countries had glaciers, and no remains have been found.
The largest numbers of cave bear remains are around the Pyrenees, Alps, and Carpathians. Austria, Switzerland, northern Italy, northern Spain, southern France, and Romania.
A few years ago, Scientists re-accessed fossils, and vouched cave bear probably died out 24,000 years ago.
There diet was more specialized, comprised more of high quality plants, and they lived in a restricted range. Additional mitochondrial DNA research indicated that the genetic decline of the cave bear began long before it became extinct.
Around 40 thousand years ago, humans, neanderthals and cave bears begin competing for caves. Climate change was not the sole cause of there extinction. Unlike brown bears, cave bears are seldom represented in cave art, but as trophies, in worship or graves. It is believed humans may have avoided cave bear until they had to but may have been necessary for survival. As shown when populations and thus competitions increased for shelter, humans and neanderthals became a threat. If cave bears couldnt find caves, or they were full. It would have caused a extremey high winter mortality rate.
A study of cave bear mtDNA (mitochondrial dna), showed caves used by cave bears were found to contain almost exclusively a unique lineage of closely related haplotypes. This indicated a homing like behaviour for birthing and hibernation areas. In conclusion, the study showed cave bears could not easily colonize new sites when in competition with humans for these resources.
Relationship with humans:
The Swiss; and french trophy skull(s)
In the early part of the 1900s, the Drachenloch cave in Switzerland was excavated. Emil Bächler, and his crew, uncovered more than 30,000 cave bear skeletons. A stone chest or cist, consisting of a low built walls from limestone slabs was also uncovered. Inside it was a number of cave bear skulls. Most scholars agree it was proof of prehistoric human religious (or animal) rites, and that the skulls were kept as trophies.
Some archaeologists argue the evidence for religious practices is “far from convincing”. *Note: they also had hyena and other pest/varmen to deal with
A similar phenomenon was encountered in southern France, at Regourdou. A rectangular pit contained the remains of at least twenty bears, covered by a massive stone slab. The remains of a Neanderthal, a bear humerus, scraper, core, and flakes, were also inside.
Basura Cave in Savona, Italy
An unusual discovery in a deep chamber was found is thought to be related to cave bear worship.
Zoomorphic stalagmite was found surrounded by clay pellets. It is thought to have been used by Neanderthals for a ceremony. Bear bones were scattered on the floor for some other ritual purpose.
Bibliography: Loreille, O.; et al. (2001). “Ancient DNA analysis reveals divergence of the cave bear, Ursus spelaeus, and brown bear, Ursus arctos, lineages”. Current Biology. 11 (3): 200–203. doi:10.1016/S0960-9822(01)00046-X. PMID11231157.
Cave Bears. Jan Kowalski. psu.edu
Argant A, Crégut-Bonnoure E (1996). “Famille des Ursidae”. In Guérin, C., Patou-Mathis, M. (eds.). Les grands mammiferes Plio-Pleistocenes d’Europe. Paris, FR: Masson. pp. 167–177.