Neanderthals hunted massive elephants: study
Neanderthals may have lived in larger groups than previously believed, hunting massive elephants that were up to three times bigger than those of today, according to a new study.
The researchers reached their conclusions, published in the journal Science Advances on Wednesday, based on examinations of the 125,000-year-old skeletal remains of straight-tusked elephants found near Halle in central Germany.
The bones of around 70 elephants from the Pleistocene era were discovered in the 1980s in a huge coal quarry that has since been converted into an artificial lake.
Elephants of the time were much larger than the woolly mammoth and three times the size of the present day Asian elephant, and an adult male could weigh up to 13 metric tonnes.
"Hunting these giant animals and completely butchering them was part of Neanderthal subsistence activities at this location," Wil Roebroeks, a co-author of the study, told AFP.
"This constitutes the first clear-cut evidence of elephant hunting in human evolution," said Roebroeks, a professor of archaeology at Leiden University in the Netherlands.
The study suggests that the Neanderthals who lived in the area for 2,000 to 4,000 years were less mobile and formed social units "substantially larger than commonly envisaged."
"Neanderthals were not simple slaves of nature, original hippies living off the land," Roebroeks said.
"They were actually shaping their environment, by fire... and also by having a big impact on the biggest animals that were around in the world at that time."
The researchers determined the elephants had been hunted -- and not just scavenged -- because of the age and sex profile of the remains found in the quarry.
Most of them were males and there were few young or old ones.
"It's a typical selection made by hunters who went for the biggest prey," Roebroeks said.
Adult male elephants would have been easier to hunt than females, who tend to move in herds protecting their young.
The researchers said the Neanderthals were able to preserve the huge quantities of food provided by a single elephant and it would sustain them for months.