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Richard Walker

Cave Bears

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This is a tooth from a cave bear. My brother gave it to me some years ago and I keep it by my bedside, as a sort of link to the past and the world in which our ancestors lived. 

The coin is to give an indication of scale. It's a Roman denarius, about 1 cm across.

The tooth looks pretty formidable, and I thought about what sort of a bite it could give. I imagined prehistoric  people competing for cave space with what I though would have been carnivorous animals. However, to my surprise, studies of their teeth suggest they may have been substantially herbivorous [1].

Why did they die out? Some possibilities suggest themselves:

  • The bears' diet was too specialised (think about giant pandas), the plants they eat were affected by climate change and there wasn't enough food
  • Humans hunted them to extinction
  • Humans out-competed them.
It might have ben a combination of all these factors, or something entirely different. Further research may help us learn more about what happened to these fascinating beasts.

[1] Cave Bear: A Vegetarian Carnivorehttps://www.senckenberg.de/en/pressemeldungen/cave-bear-a-vegetarian-carnivore/#:~:text=Together%20with%20an%20international%20team,had%20an%20exclusively%20vegetarian%20diet.

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