Massive Elephants Were Hunted By Neanderthals
Neanderthals killed gigantic elephants that weighed as much as eight vehicles each when they roamed what is now northern Europe some 125,000 years ago.
At almost 13 feet (4 meters) tall, these enormous creatures were the Pleistocene's largest land mammals. According to a new studyof the remains of over 70 of the now-extinct straight-tusked elephants discovered at a location in central Germany known as Neumark-Nord, close to the city of Halle, Neanderthals habitually hunted and methodically butchered the animals for their flesh despite their imposing size.
What we understand about how these extinct hominins structured their lives is being challenged by the discovery. According to the research, Neanderthals were far more established and likely lived in larger groups than many researchers had previously thought.
In northern Europe, remains of straight-tusked elephant with occasional cut marks were previously discovered alongside stone tools. However, it has been unclear whether early people actively hunted elephants or simply gathered meat from those that had already perished naturally. This controversy was settled by the enormous volume of elephant bones and the orderly arrangement of cut marks.
These Neanderthals were incredibly excellent hunters who knew anatomy, and how to work together to dismember the game and preserve meat. The huge elephants were regularly hunted over a period of around 2,000 years. According to the study, killing a tusked elephant would not have been commonplace at this site, where one animal is believed to have been slaughtered every five to six years.
A lake environment with wild horses, fallow deer, and red deer was home to a variety of species that Neanderthal hunters may have pursued, according to other discoveries at the site. Before the ice sheets spread at the beginning of the latest ice age, between 100,000 and 25,000 years ago, the environment would have been comparable to what it is today.
And according to a specific pattern of repetitive cut marks on the surface of the well-preserved bones that were found in the same place on different animals and on the left and right skeleton portions of a single animal, they were systematically dismembered and processed. Given that a single mature male animal weighed 13 metric tons, slaughtering probably required a sizable crew and took many days.
The Neanderthals' ability to kill such enormous creatures is not alone what shocks us the most; it was their understanding of what to do with the flesh. Its a lot of meat. One of these elephants produces an astounding amount of food: more than 2,500 daily meals at 4,000 calories each. Thus, a group of 25 foragers could eat an elephant with straight trunks for three months, a company of 100 foragers could consume for a month, and a group of 350 individuals could eat for a week.
It's likely that the Neanderthals who lived there knew how to smoke and preserve meat using fire. Another possibility is that a meat bonanza provided a venue for brief congregations of members of a larger social network. Or they lived in large groups.
Neanderthals were believed to have been very mobile and to have lived in tiny groups of no more than 20. The most recent discovery, however, revealed that they might have lived in considerably larger numbers and been more sedentary at this specific time and place, when food was abundant and the environment was favorable.
In general, the study emphasizes that Neanderthals weren't the gruff cave dwellers that are sometimes portrayed in popular culture. Contrary to popular belief, they were expert hunters, knew how to prepare and preserve food, and survived in a wide range of ecosystems and climatic conditions. Neanderthals produced intricate tools, yarn, and works of art in addition to carefully burying their dead. We now need to take into account that Neanderthals had preservation technologies to store food, were occasionally semi-sedentary, or occasionally operated in groups larger than we ever imagined, in addition to the more recognizably human traits that we know they had, such as caring for the sick, burying their dead, and occasionally using symbolic representation.
Gaudzinski-Windheuser, S., Kindler, L., MacDonald, K., & Roebroeks, W. (2023). Hunting and processing of straight-tusked elephants 125.000 years ago: Implications for Neanderthal behavior. Science Advances, 9(5), eadd8186. https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.add8186