Ice Age Animals in Europe: Cave Lions and Deer with Giant Antlers

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animals in Chauvet Cave in France

Animals that lived in Ice Age Europe around 40,000 years ago at same time modern humans and Neanderthal roamed the continent included wooly mammoths, cave bears, mastodons, saber tooth tigers, cave lions, wooly rhinoceros, steppe bison, giant elk, and the European wild ass.

Predation by early men and the shrinking of Ice Age grasslands are both believed to have led to the sudden extinction of animals named above. Other species such as the musk ox and saiga antelope managed to survive in only small pockets. The mass extinctions are believed to have been partly the result of these animals having never been hunted by humans and having little fear of them.

Ice Age megafauna, including the woolly mammoth and the cave bear, became extinct around the same time around 10,000 years ago.. It is believed that these animals were driven to extinction by a mix of environmental factors, which may have also included competition for resources with modern humans, who were spreading throughout Europe and the Americas at this time.

The end of the large-game hunting cultures marked the end of the early stone age (Paleolithic period) and the beginning of the middle stone age (Mesolithic period) when early man derived his protein from fish, shellfish and deer instead of large animals like mammoth and buffalo.

Last Ice Age and Animals

Ice Age periods have occurred about 100,000 years or so for the last 2 million years. Around 125,000 years ago, in the middle of major warm, interglacial period, sea levels were 20 to 30 feet higher than they are today. Areas of Africa, the Middle East and West Asia that are desert today were covered by tropical deciduous forests and savanna dotted with numerous lakes.

After that the climate began getting colder. By around 100,000 years a new Ice Age had begun. About 65,000 years, in the middle of the ice age, glaciers covered nearly 17 million square miles, including much of northern Europe and Canada, and sea levels were more than 400 feet lower that they are today. Many islands and land masses that are now separated by ocean water were connected by land bridges. Among the land masses that were connected were Australia and Indonesia, and Alaska and Siberia.

Around 40,000 years ago glaciers began to melt. At that time they still covered most of Britain and extended into Europe as far south as Germany. By around 17,000 years ago they had retreated from Germany. Around 13,000 they had retreated from Sweden. The Ice Age officially ended about 10,000 years ago.

Europe in the last ice age

The landscape of Europe was covered by ice. But it was also altered in other ways not directly related to the ice. As the glaciers moved southward, for example, forests were replaced with tundra and steppe. During the last ice age Europe was covered mostly by open steppe which is an ideal habitat for grazing animals like horses, rhinos, deer, mammoth, reindeer and bison. Vast herds of these animals, fed on steppe grasses, roamed across Europe and Asia. As the Ice Ages ended and the climate warmed up, the habitant for the large animals herds declined as the grasslands were replaced by birch and evergreen forests.

Elizabeth Kolbert wrote in The New Yorker: “Among ecologists, the prevailing view of Europe in its natural, which is to say pre-agrarian, state is that it was heavily forested. (The continent’s last stands of old-growth forest are found on the border of Poland and Belarus, in the Bialowieza Forest, which the author Alan Weisman has described as a “relic of what once stretched east to Siberia and west to Ireland.”)” An ecologist named Frans “Vera argues that, even before Europeans figured out how to farm, the continent was more of a parklike landscape, with large expanses of open meadow. It was kept this way, he maintains, by large herds of herbivores—aurochs, red deer, tarpans, and European bison. (The bison, also known as wisents, were hunted nearly to extinction by the late eighteen-hundreds.) [Source: Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker , December 24 & 31, 2012 ||*||]

“Vera has written up his argument in a dense, five-hundred-page treatise that has received a good deal of attention from European naturalists, not all of it favorable. A botany professor at Dublin’s Trinity College, Fraser Mitchell, has written that an analysis of ancient pollen “forces the rejection of Vera’s hypothesis.” Vera, for his part, rejects the rejection, arguing that, precisely because they ate so much grass, the aurochs and the wisents skewed the pollen record. “That is a scientific debate that is still going on,” he told me.”||*||

Crocodiles Lived Spain Until 4.5 million Years Ago

In October 2023, paleontologists in Spain announced that they had unearthed a 4.5 million-year-old tooth that likely belonged to one of the last crocodiles in Europe. The tooth was the only crocodilian fossil excavated from a site called Baza-1 in the southern province of Granada. The tooth indicates the reptile looked similar to Nile crocodiles that live in Africa today. Baza-1 was first excavated in the early 2000s and has yielded more than 2,000 fossils, despite only covering an area of 30 square meters (323 square feet). [Source: Sascha Pare, Live Science, October 19, 2023]

"The tooth we found at the site of Baza-1 corresponds to a true crocodile," said Bienvenido Martínez Navarro, a paleontologist with the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA) and research professor at the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES) who co-led the recent excavations. "We have classified it as Crocodylus because, at the moment, the only evidence of its presence at this site is this tooth, and we don't have enough anatomical resolution to be more precise," Martínez Navarro told Live Science. This is the most recent evidence of a crocodile ever found in the fossil record in Europe, Martínez Navarro said. Until now, fossils suggesting crocodiles roamed the continent came from earlier deposits, including from the Miocene (23 million to 5.3 million years ago) and from very early on during the Pliocene (5.3 million to 2.6 million years ago).

According Live Science: Crocodiles likely crossed over from Africa to Europe around 6.2 million years ago, just before the Mediterranean Sea dried up during what is known as the Messinian salinity crisis, Martínez Navarro said. The Messinian salinity crisis was partly triggered by a global cooling event that locked ocean water up in glaciers and icebergs, lowering sea levels by about 230 feet (70 meters), according to the University of Maryland. This drop resulted in less water flowing from the Atlantic Ocean into the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, tectonic shifts also caused the ocean floor around the Strait of Gibraltar to rise, isolating the Mediterranean, which ultimately became disconnected from the world's oceans and dried up. This left behind a vast expanse of salt up to 2 miles (3 kilometers) thick in some places, which scientists found buried beneath hundreds of feet of sediment in the 1970s. "It was possible to walk from northern Africa to the Iberian Peninsula," Martínez Navarro said, adding that several species would have crossed this expanse. The Messinian salinity crisis lasted roughly 700,000 years and ended abruptly when a gigantic surge of water known as the Zanclean flood — triggered by evaporated water returning to the oceans and erosion of the strip of land around Gibraltar — replenished the Mediterranean Sea.

African crocodiles that found their way to modern-day Spain and Portugal likely disappeared when the climate became colder and drier during the Pliocene, Martínez Navarro said. The early Pliocene, however, was characterized by a tropical climate that supported a rich assemblage of animals — including now-extinct elephants, reptiles, amphibians and fish — whose remains were also unearthed at the site where the tooth was found.

Animal Images in Chauvet Cave

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Chauvet cave lions
The paintings in the Chauvet Cave complex, which date back to around 39,000 year ago, include images of herds of hooked-horned aurochs (wild oxen), ibex, running deer, charging wooly rhinoceros, prowling lions, rearing thick-maned horses, wooly mammoths, open-mouthed bears and animals that are usually associated with Africa not Europe. In all, there are 442 animals, created over thousands of years, using nearly 400,000 square feet of cave surface. Some animals are solitary or concealed but most are in groups, some of which look like great mosaics or multiple movie frames.

Jean Clottes wrote in for The Metropolitan Museum of Art: “The dominant animals throughout the cave are lions, mammoths, and rhinoceroses. From the archaeological record, it is clear that these animals were rarely hunted; the images are thus not simple depictions of daily life at the time they were made. Along with cave bears (which were far larger than grizzly bears), the lions, mammoths, and rhinos account for 63 percent of the identified animals, a huge percentage compared to later periods of cave art. Horses, bison, ibex, reindeer, red deer, aurochs, Megaceros deer, musk-oxen, panther, and owl are also represented. An exceptional image of the lower body of a woman was found associated with a bison figure. Many images of large red dots are, indeed, partial handprints made with the palm of the hand. Red hand stencils and complete handprints have also been discovered. [Source: Jean Clottes, Independent Scholar. The Metropolitan Museum of Art,, October 2002]

Unlike other caves in France and Spain which show mostly hunted animals such as bisons and oxen, the animals in Chauvet cave are large powerful animals that generally weren't eaten for food: lions, cave bears, rhinos. A wooly rhino is shown charging a herd of other rhinos and clashing with one of its members. Among the 72 cave lions one is depicted "sniffing the hindquarters of a crouched and snarling companion." The cave contains the first prehistoric cave paintings of a spotted leopard, a musk oxen and an owl turning its had 180 degrees.

Joshua Hammer wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “Spread out over six chambers spanning 1,300 feet were panels of lionesses in pursuit of great herbivores—including aurochs, the now-extinct ancestors of domestic cattle, and bison; engravings of owls and woolly rhinoceroses; a charcoal portrait of four wild horses captured in individualized profile, and some 400 other images of beasts that had roamed the plains and valleys in huge numbers during the ice age. With a skill never before seen in cave art, the artists had used the knobs, recesses and other irregularities of the limestone to impart a sense of dynamism and three-dimensionality to their galloping, leaping creatures. Later, Jean-Marie Chauvet would marvel at the “remarkable realism” and “aesthetic mastery” of the artworks they encountered that day. [Source: Joshua Hammer, Smithsonian Magazine, April 2015 ]

On the paintings that he found particularly striking or moving,the German filmmaker Werner Herzog said, “the Panel of the Horses and the Panel of the Lions, of course. The lions in particular are just incredible because a whole group of lions is looking, is stalking something. The intensity of their gaze, all looking exactly at something, focusing on something. You don't know exactly on what they focus and it has an intensity of art, of depiction, which is just awesome.” [Source: Archaeology magazine, March/April 2011]

Saber-Toothed Cat in Europe Same Time as Early Humans?


In 2017, scientists announced that a sabertooth cat called Homotherium latidens lived in Europe 50,000 years ago, and there was a good chance it crossed paths with modern humans there. Michelle Z. Donahue wrote for National Geographic: “Painstaking genetic analysis of a jawbone dredged up from the bottom of the North Sea has now confirmed the theory that the so-called scimitar cat Homotherium latidens lived in Europe much longer than previously believed. Until recently, the earliest fossil of a Homotherium in the region dated to about 300,000 years ago, and many paleontologists had assumed that’s when the large cat went locally extinct. But in 2002, radiocarbon dating of the North Sea jawbone suggested that the species was still prowling around Europe as early as 28,000 years ago—and the new DNA work backs up that estimate. [Source: Michelle Z. Donahue, National Geographic, October 19, 2017 \=/]

“Scientists were also able to reconstruct highly detailed mitochondrial genomes from a North American branch of Homotherium and from a completely separate species, Smilodon populator—the animal many people (wrongly) know as a saber-toothed tiger. The new work shows that both Homotherium and Smilodon share a common ancestor with all cats living today, one that lived around 20 million years ago. \=/

“The work revealed so few differences between European and North American Homotherium DNA that the groups should probably be considered part of the same species, Paijmans says. Until now, they’d been classified as two species because of slight variations in bones from different locations. The research also adds new clues to why Homotherium ultimately vanished. Given the revised time frame, it’s likely that the scimitar cat was yet another victim of the extinction event that wiped out other Ice Age megafauna, including the woolly mammoth and the cave bear. \=/

Cave Lions

cave lion

The cave lion is a subspecies of lion that disappeared around 12,400 years ago. It was one of the largest subspecies of a lion to have ever existed, about percent larger than modern lions, scientists say. It is often depicted in cave paintings as having some kind of collar fluff and possibly stripes but there is firm evidence that it really possessed these things.. [Source: Bob Strauss,, April 8, 2018 ^*^]

The Cave Lion (Panthera leo spelaea) is technically classified as a subspecies of Panthera leo, the modern lion. This was discovered by a genetic sequencing of the cave lion's fossil remains. Essentially, this was a plus-sized cat that roamed the vast expanse of Eurasia. It feasted on a wide array of mammalian megafauna including prehistoric horses, cave bears and prehistoric elephants. The cave lion received its name not because it lived in caves, but because numerous intact skeletons have been found in Cave Bear habitats, suggesting that cave lions preyed opportunistically on hibernating cave bears. ^*^

“As is the case with many prehistoric predators, it's unclear why the cave lion vanished off the face of the earth about 2,000 years ago. It's possible that it was hunted to extinction by the early human settlers of Eurasia, who would have had a vested interest in banding together and eliminating any cave lions in the immediate vicinity. These same humans regarded the cave lion with reverence and awe, as evidenced by numerous cave paintings. But it's more likely that the cave lion succumbed to a combination of climate change and the disappearance of its usual prey; after all, small bands of Homo sapiens could more easily over-hunt prehistoric deer, pigs and another mammalian megafauna than these huge, fanged predators. ^*^

Humans, Neanderthals and Cave Lions

Archaeology reported; Proof that Paleolithic humans systematically hunted the Eurasian cave lion may have been found deep within the La Garma cave site in northern Spain. Nine lion phalanx bones, located in the paws, that were uncovered there have been shown to be the remains of a pelt that was spread across the cave floor 16,000 years ago. The precise cut marks on the bones show that humans were adept at removing an animal’s skin while keeping the claws attached, implying that this was a common activity. [Source: Jason Urbanus, Archaeology magazine, March-April 2017]

Cave Lions

Imanai Cave in the Russian republic of Bashkortostan is the world’s largest cave lion tomb. Excavations deep in the cave have uncovered at least 500 cave lion bones or bone fragments. Because the remains were found deep in the cave, and because evidence of human activity is limited to a handful of spearheads, researchers believe that it may have been a religious or ritual site where the remains of the extinct carnivores were brought. The deposit hasn’t been accurately dated, but is likely at least 30,000 years old. [Source: Samir S. Patel Archaeology magazine, January-February 2016]

A row of red dots emerging from the mouth of an image of a lion in France’s Chauvet Cave, dated to 36,000 years ago, is one of the earliest known examples of an artist rendering an animal making a sound. [Source: Eric A. Powell, Archaeology Magazine, July/August 2022]

Marks on the ribcage of a 48,000-year-old cave lion skeleton in Germany suggest the animal was killed by Neanderthals. Isaac Schultz wrote in Gizmodo: A team of paleoanthropologists and archaeologists scrutinized the remains of four lions excavated in 1985 in Siegsdorf, Germany, and phalanges (finger) and sesamoid (joint) bones from three lion specimens excavated from Einhornhöle, Germany, in 2019. The former showed evidence of being punctured by a wooden-tipped spear — a known weapon of Neanderthals — and the latter three had cut marks that suggested they were butchered in a way to keep the animals’ claws preserved on the fur. The team’s research is published today in Scientific Reports. [Source: Isaac Schultz, Gizmodo, October 13, 2023]

Cave Lions Found in the Siberian Permafrost

In October 2015, researchers in Siberia found a group of frozen cave lion kittens, dating to about 12,000 years ago. One of them still had its fur intact. Bob Strauss wrote in While it's not uncommon for explorers to stumble across quick-frozen wooly mammoths, this is the first time a prehistoric cat has been found in permafrost. It opens up entirely new avenues of investigation into life during the late Pleistocene epoch: for instance, laboratory technicians may be able to analyze the mother's milk recently ingested by the kittens and thus discern their mother's diet. It also may be possible to recover fragments of DNA from the cave kittens' soft tissues, which could, conceivably, one day facilitate the "de-extinction" of Panthera leo spelaea.” [Source: Bob Strauss,, April 8, 2018 ^*^]

Cave lion cubs found in the Siberian permafrost in Yakutsk, Russia in 2021 were described by Russian scientists as the 'best preserved Ice Age animal'. A female named Sparta is about 27,962 years old. A male named , Boris, is believed to be over 43,000 years old. [Source: Reuters, August 14, 2021]

Leading Researcher of the Department of Mammoth Fauna of the Academy of Sciences of the Sakha Republic, Valery Plotnikov, told Reuters: find itself is unique; there was no other such find in Yakutia. Although another three lion cubs have been found in the last few years. One of them — Boris, was located close to Sparta, and others were found nearby more or less, on the same river. Those cubs were one or two weeks old, very little ones. They were nicknamed Uyan and Dina after the river Uyandina."

“"As for this lion cub, it is unique because its viscera is preserved, external morphostructure and skeleton, wool and internal organs are preserved, and maybe, we hope, some disintegrated parts of the mother's milk (remain intact). Because if we have them, we can understand what its mother's diet was. We are able to do it now."

antlers of the Megaloceros giganteus in the Leeds museum

Megaloceros — Deer with Massive 12-foot Antlers

The extinct giant deer (Megaloceros giganteus), sometimes known as the Irish elk, stood over two meters (6.5 feet) tall and weighedas much as 680 kilograms (1,500 pounds). Males boasted antlers over 3.7 meters (12 feet) wide. By comparison, modern elk have antlers that are about 1.2 meters (four feet) across. These enormous Ice Age mammals were the largest deer ever in Europe. While they are primarily associated with Ireland, they were found throughout Europe and as far east as Russia’s Lake Baikal and in North Africa too. A 17,000 year-old painting in Lascaux Cave in southern France appears to depict one.[Source: Laura Baisas, Popular Science, March 17, 2024]

The first fossilized Megaloceros was uncovered in a bog in Ireland and scientifically described in the 1690s. “Despite Ireland being a tiny place, we have a lot of modern deer and a lot of giant deer deposits,” Paolo Viscardi, Keeper of Natural History at the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin tells Popular Science. “The depositional environment is just perfect and the preservation of these animals is incredible. There's just this massive constant stream of giant deer turning up here.”

Laura Baisas wrote in Popular Science: Despite most museums listing the animal as an elk, Megaloceros was a deer. Their antlers were made of strong bone. This sturdy bone is one reason why they are more well-preserved than animal horns that are made of keratin. This same material that makes human hair and fingernails, that withers away over time. Horns are also more permanent like the ones found on a bighorn sheep.

The earliest fossils of Megaloceros date back about 400,000 years and the most recent fossil is roughly 8,000 years old. Some Megaloceros antler fossils have been found completely detached, while others have been uncovered still connected to the skull. “The anatomy is just really interesting because they're so big,” said Viscardi. “I've handled quite a lot of them and when you pick them up, you realize just how much they weighed. It’s really incredible that an animal not only grew this, but then walked around with it every day, on its head, and managed to use it to fight with.”

Like deer, they shed these antlers every year. Paleontologists believe that the males had extra thick skulls and sturdy neck vertebrae to carry these antlers. Reproduction was also the primary reason for these enormous appendages, since males used them to fight one another for mates the way modern deer and elk do. “It was signaling to other males that you're not to be messed with, which really helps when it comes to that in the actual nitty gritty of the fighting,” says Viscardi.

Megaloceros was likely a very opportunistic eater, grazing on whatever plants were available. While it was primarily an herbivore, they may have dined on some animal parts, since this annual competition for mates took up enormous amounts of energy. “I would be more surprised than not if they didn't eat bits of animal remains,” says Viscardi. “I suspect the males would have actually actively sought out bones and the leftovers from scavengers and carnivores to feed on. It’s something you see today with a lot of deer. They’ll nibble on bits of bone they find to get the nutrients and minerals out.”

Megaloceros Extinction

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Megaloceros from Lascaux Cave
Laura Baisas wrote in Popular Science: While having such large antlers benefited the species as a whole for reproductive survival, it came at a high individual cost. According to Viscardi, some of the specimens that have been found with antlers intact likely died shortly after the rut because they just did not have enough food to keep going. The fossils of large groups of males have been found together in bogs and farmland throughout Europe, many of whom likely did not have a chance to get enough food before the winter set in. [Source: Laura Baisas, Popular Science, March 17, 2024]

Extreme cold also likely played a role in their extinction in parts of western Europe. Their first wave of extinction began about 12,000 years ago. The giant deer began to disappear from present day Ireland and most of Europe when the climate began to cool. “Food becoming less available and reproduction rates going down is probably what drove the extinction in Ireland,” said Viscardi. “As it gets colder, the quality of the food availability goes down.

However, their extinction was not a one and done event. Some fossils uncovered in central Russia reveal that there was an enclave of giant deer alive as late as 8,000 years ago. This last population of giant deer may have gone extinct due to a water climate, unlike their counterparts in Western Europe who disappeared due to extreme cold and ice. In a warmer world, they would have had to navigate increasing forests with their huge antlers and there would have been less grassland available for them to feed on.

In some parts of Europe, they may have faced pressure from humans, as Neolithic settlements were beginning to expand when they went extinct. Humans removing a lot of vegetation could have put them under continued stress, but it was still glaciers and extreme cold that most likely led to their extinction in Ireland. “I don't think there's any really good evidence that humans turned up on the scene in Ireland, and we're hunting or anything like that,” said Viscardi. “It's very much more about the climate getting less hospitable.”


Aurochs (Bos primigenius) are extinct cattle, regarded as the wild ancestor of modern domestic cattle. Members of the even-toed ungulate family and cousins of buffalo, musk oxen, wild oxen and yaks, aurochs were huge animals with long horns. Bulls were black with a white stripe running down their back. Cows were slightly smaller and reddish brown in color. Domesticated cattle are much smaller than aurochs. Auroch bulls stood up to 180 centimeters (71 inches) at the shoulder while cows stood 155 centimeters (61 inches). They were one of the largest herbivores in during the Ice Age periods. Their broad horns reached 80 centimeters (31 inches) in length.

Auroch ranged across Africa, Asia and Europe. Early men hunted them and depicted them in 30,000-year-old rock paintings. Their bones have been found at many early human settlements. Small shrines made from their horns were erected in 8,000-year-old settlements in Turkey. They also showed up in Neolithic petroglyphs, Ancient Egyptian reliefs and Bronze Age figurines. They are believed to be have symbolized power, sexual potency and prowess in religions of the ancient Near East. Their horns were used in votive offerings, as trophies and drinking horns. They endured until the 17th century when were made extinct by hunting and deforestation. The last auroch died in Poland's Jactorowka Forest in 1627.

Aurochs probably evolved in Asia and migrated west and north during warm interglacial periods. The oldest known aurochs fossils found in India and North Africa date to the Middle Pleistocene (1.26 million to 780,000 years ago) and in Europe to the Holstein interglacial period (421,000 to 395,000 years ago). Based on fossil remains in Northern Europe, it reached Denmark and southern Sweden during the Holocene (11,700 years ago to present day).

Cave Hyenas

The cave hyena (Crocuta crocuta spelaea) is an an extinct hyena also known as the Ice Age spotted hyena that is regarded as a paleosubspecies of the spotted hyena, which still live in Africa and parts of Asia today. Cave hyenas ranged from Britain and the Iberian Peninsula to eastern Siberia and China and are one of the best known mammals of the Ice Age, with their bones found in many European caves. They preyed on large mammals such as wild horses, steppe bison and woolly rhinoceros, whose bones accumulated by the hundreds in caves, sinkholes, mud pits, and muddy areas along rivers. The cause of the cave hyena's extinction is not fully understood, though it could have been due to a combination of factors, including human activity, diminished quantities of prey animals, and climate change. [Source: Wikipedia]

cave hyena

According to Prehistoric Fauna: “ It is known from a range of fossils and prehistoric cave art. With the decline of grasslands 12,500 years ago, Europe experienced a massive loss of lowland habitats favoured by cave hyenas, and a corresponding increase in mixed woodlands. Little is known of their social habits. Their use of caves as dens is widely accepted, although sites in the open-air are also known. Indications of whether cave hyenas lived in large clans or on a more solitary basis is lacking, though large clans are not considered likely in their Pleistocene habitat. [Source: Roman Uchytel’s Prehistoric Fauna]

Though originally described as a separate species from the spotted hyena due to large differences in fore and hind extremities, genetic analysis indicates no sizeable differences in DNA between Pleistocene cave hyena and modern day spotted hyena populations. Genetic evidence from the nuclear genome suggests that Eurasian Crocuta populations (including the Asian Crocuta crocuta ultima) were highly genetically divergent from African populations, though the lack of clear separation between mitochondrial genome lineages suggests that the two populations interbred for some time after the initial split.

Cave Bears

The cave bear was a European species that coexisted with early humans for about 20,000 years before dying out about 25,000 years ago. Both the word "cave" and the scientific name spelaeus are used because fossils of this species were mostly found in caves. This reflects the views of experts that cave bears may have spent more time in caves than the brown bear, which uses caves only for hibernation. [Source: Wikipedia]

Andrew Curry wrote in Smithsonian Magazine: “People have been excavating cave bear remains for hundreds of years—in the Middle Ages, the massive skulls were attributed to dragons—but the past decade has seen a burst of discoveries about how the bears lived and why they went extinct. An abundance of bear bones has been found from Spain to Romania in caves where the animals once hibernated. “Caves are good places to preserve bones, and cave bears had the good sense to die there,” Hervé Bocherens, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Tübingen, Germany, says [Source: Andrew Curry, Smithsonian Magazine, December 2010]

“Along with mammoths, lions and woolly rhinos, cave bears (Ursus spelaeus) were once among Europe’s most impressive creatures. Males weighed up to 1,500 pounds, 50 percent more than the largest modern grizzlies. Cave bears had wider heads than today’s bears, and powerful shoulders and forelimbs.” Their skeletons are similar to those of modern brown bears.

Woolly Mammoths

Woolly mammoths lived from 400,000 to 3,900 years ago and for a while lived at the same time as American mastodons (who lived from 3.75 million to 11,500 years ago) and African elephants and Asian elephants (who first appeared about 4 million years ago). Woolly mammoths were like elephants adapted for cold weather. They had thick skin and a heavy Woolly coat. Reaching a height of 14 feet at the shoulder and possessing upward curving tusks, considerably larger than those of an elephant, they lived in North America and Eurasia.

Scientists have a good idea what woolly mammoths looked like based on the discovery of frozen woolly mammoth carcasses in Alaska and Siberia as well as bones and other remains found over a large area. In 2013, scientists found a baby woolly mammoth entombed in ice in Russia. Many woolly mammoth teeth and tusks have been discovered, some with human engravings on them. well. Early humans killed Woolly Mammoths for a number of reasons. They ate the meat, but they also made art, homes and tools out of the bones and tusks. [Source:]

The ancestors of woolly mammoths and modern-day elephants originated in equatorial Africa. But between 1.2 and 2.0 million years ago, members of the mammoth lineage migrated to higher latitudes. Mammoths differ from elephants in a number of ways, such as having long and gracefully curved tusks instead of straight tusks and a domed skull instead of a flat head.

Megaloceros giganteus (Irish Elk)

Woolly Rhinos

According to the International Rhino Foundation: “The Woolly Rhino (Coelodonta antiquitatis) first appeared some 350,000 years ago and may have survived until as recently as 10,000 years ago. Their fossils are fairly common and have been discovered throughout Europe and Asia. Well-preserved remains have been discovered frozen in ice and buried in oil-saturated soils. In Ukraine, a complete carcass of a female Woolly Rhino was discovered buried in the mud. The combination of oil and salt prevented the remains from decomposing, allowing the soft tissues to remain intact. [Source: International Rhino Foundation \=]

“A herbivore who grazed on grass, shrubby sprouts, forbs (small herbaceous plants), lichens and mosses. Woolly Rhinos had a broad front lip. The horns of Coelodonta antiquitatis fossils show abrasion marks that were presumably caused by to and fro motion of the head as it pushed the snow away while searching for grass. The Woolly Rhino lived just as their recent relatives do, alone or in very small family groups. Coelodonta antiquitatis were hunted by early humans and they were depicted on the walls of caves in France 30,000 years ago. The Sumatran rhino, Dicerorhinus sumatrensis, is the last representative of the Woolly Rhino family. \=\

“Once common throughout Northern Europe and Eastern Asia (especially in what is now Russia). Coelodonta antiquitatis' range extended from South Korea to Scotland to Spain. In the latter part of the Pleistocene Period, the Woolly Rhino may have had the largest range of any known rhinoceros, living or extinct. The Woolly Rhinos frequently inhabited the same areas as Woolly Mammoths, however they apparently never managed to move across the Bering Strait (Bering Land Bridge) and extend their range into North America. \=\

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Nature, Scientific American. Live Science, Discover magazine, Discovery News, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, AP, AFP and various books and other publications.

Last updated May 2024

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