November 30, 2010

What Killed the Cave Bears?

Sometimes when I want to wallow in nostalgia for lost and long-ago times, I pull out a coffee-table photo book of paintings from Chauvet.

There is a sketch on the right, student work from L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts des Grottes, no doubt.

Such bears are long-gone, and while many would suspect that Cro-Magnon hunters with spears did them in, some scientists still seek other explanations for their disappearance.

Climate change? Housing shortage? High-tech tools are being deployed in the search for answers.

However, if the Cro-Mag boys killed one, they quite likely ate it. Did they make bear dumplings? Or did that recipe have to wait for the Neolithic, when, if you are in the Paul Shepard camp, you assert that everything went downhill.


Camera Trap Codger said...

Good post, Chas.

Nice to learn of the Smithsonian article and the latest work on this beast. Up to now Kurten's "The Cave Bear Story -- life and death of a vanished animal" was my main resource on the creature. But I'd debate the vegetarian extinction hypothesis, because our native grizz is a vegetarian too, and the cave bear's jaws and teeth don't convince that it was an obligatory vegan. There were still plenty of alternative sources of food, including suckling lamb to feed ice age cave bears.

BTW, Storer and Tevis (in the "The California Grizzly") underscore the appeal of bear steak to California's Spanish and American colonists, and also make the point that the grizz population exploded when cattle overstocked the range where deer and antelope used to play. Apparently they switched from a predominantly veg to a meat diet.

Holly Heyser said...

I'd be in Paul Shepard's camp if he let me, but I'm not allowed. (Yep, still smarting over the conclusion of that book.)