Neanderthals may have lived in larger herds than previously believed, hunting elephants three times larger than today’s, according to a new study.
The researchers reached their conclusions, published in the journal Science Advances on Wednesday, based on analyzes of 125,000-year-old bones of upright elephants found near Halle in central Germany.
The bones of about 70 elephants from the Pleistocene era were found in the 1980s in a large coal mine that has been turned into an artificial lake.
The elephants of that time were larger than the woolly mammoth and three times the size of the modern Asian elephant: the largest male weighed about 13 tons.
“Hunting these large animals and butchering them whole was part of the Neanderthal’s subsistence activities in this area,” Wil Roebroeks, co-author of the study, told AFP.
Roebroeks, a professor of archeology at Leiden University in the Netherlands, said: “This is the first clear evidence of elephant hunting in evolutionary theory.
The study suggests that the Neanderthals who lived in the area for 2,000 to 4,000 years were not mobile and formed social societies “larger than previously thought”.
“Neanderthals were not natural slaves, the first hippies who lived off the land,” Roebroeks said.
“Basically they were creating their environment, with fire… and by having a big impact on the biggest animals that were on the planet at that time.”
The researchers found that the elephants were being hunted – not just poached – because of the age and sex status of the remains found in the quarry.
Most of them were male and there were a few younger or older ones.
“It’s a common choice made by hunters who hunted the biggest prey,” Roebroeks said.
Mature male elephants would have hunted more easily than females, who often travel in herds to protect their young. “Although males are mostly solitary animals,” Roebroeks said. Therefore, it is easy to hinder them from moving, to get them into mud traps and holes.
And they are the biggest calorie bombs going around these places.
The researchers said that Neanderthals were able to store as much food as a single elephant and would store it for months.
“The mass of a male elephant of about 10 tons would have produced 2,500 daily meals for an adult Neanderthal,” Roebroeks said.
“They could deal with it, either by keeping it longer – which we didn’t know about – or simply because they lived in much larger groups than what we think.”
The researchers say the Neanderthals butchered the animals with flint tools, which left clear marks on the well-preserved bones.
Roebroeks said: “They are old cut marks from cutting and scraping the meat off the bones.”
Traces of charcoal fires used by Neanderthals have also been found, suggesting that they may have dried meat by hanging it on racks and lighting it on fire. under it.
Roebroeks said that although the study provides evidence that Neanderthals lived in large social groups, it is difficult to estimate how large those groups were.
“But if you have a 10-ton elephant and you want to fix the animal before it rots, you need something like 20 people to finish it in a week,” he said.