Cave bear ecology and interactions with pleistocene humans

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39 Scopus citations


Human ancestors (Homo spp.), cave bears (Ursus deningerí, U. spelaeus), and brown bears (U. arctos) have coexisted in Eurasia for at least one million years, and bear remains and Paleolithic artifacts frequently are found in the same caves. The prevalence of cave bear bones in some sites is especially striking, as these bears were exceptionally large relative to archaic humans. Do artifact-bear associations in cave deposits indicate predation on cave bears by early human hunters, or do they testify simply to early humans' and cave bears' common interest in natural shelters, occupied on different schedules? Answering these and other questions about the circumstances of human-cave bear associations is made possible in part by expectations developed from research on modern bear ecology, time-scaled for paleontologic and archaeologic applications. Here I review available knowledge on Paleolithic human-bear relations with a special focus on cave bears (Middle Pleistocene U. deningerí) from Yarimburgaz Cave, Turkey. Multiple lines of evidence show that cave bear and human use of caves were temporally independent events; the apparent spatial associations between human artifacts and cave bear bones are explained principally by slow sedimentation rates relative to the pace of biogenic accumulation and bears' bed preparation habits. Hibernation-linked behaviors and population characteristics of cave bears, based on osteometric, isotopic, and age and sex structure analyses, indicate that they depended heavily on seasonal food supplies, which were rich in resistant plant materials and cryptic, gritty foods. There is little evidence of direct ecological interaction among Pleistocene humans and cave bears.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-58
Number of pages18
StatePublished - 1999


  • Brown bears
  • Cave bears
  • Mediterranean
  • Mortality
  • Paleodiet
  • Pleistocene human-bear interactions
  • Sex ratio
  • Ursus arctos
  • Ursus deningerí
  • Ursus spelaeus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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