19 January 2019
First evidence that ancient Europeans were hunting mammoths
About 25,000 years ago, ice age hunters in what is now Poland threw a light spear known as a javelin at a mammoth. Now, the discovery in Kraków (Poland) of that javelin, still embedded in the mammoth's rib, has revealed a major surprise: the first evidence that ice age people in Europe used weapons to hunt the giant beasts. The find comes from one of the largest clusters of mammoth bones in Europe. As a result of many years of excavations, archaeologists have discovered the remains of at least 110 mammoths from approx. 25,000 years ago.
"Among tens of thousands of bones I came across a damaged mammoth rib. It turned out that a fragment of a flint arrowhead was stuck in it. This is the first such find from the Ice Age in Europe!" - said Dr. Piotr Wojtal from the Institute of Systematics and Evolution of Animals PAS in Kraków. The analyses are conducted jointly with Dr. Jarosław Wilczyński.
Wojtal reminds that the scientific community has been discussing for years how our ancestors killed mammoths. According to some researchers, these animals were killed by trickery - chasing them to the pits or towards bluffs, from which they would fall. Others say that people focused on weaker or sick animals. Some think that mammoths were hunted. "We finally have a 'smoking gun', the first direct evidence of how these animals were hunted" - notes the archaeozoologist. So far, similar finds are known only from two Siberian sites.
The bone with the flint blade was discovered already in 2002. Since bone damage is small, it was only discovered in February 2018 during detailed archaeozoological analyses. The blade fragment preserved in the bone is only 7 mm long. Scientists believe that it is a flint tip broken off at the moment of driving a spear into the body of a mammoth.
So far, among the bones of mammoths and other animals found near the cluster of animal remains in Kraków, archaeologists have discovered several hundred fragments of flint blades (so it was a mass product), of which about half were broken at the tip, probably after hitting a hard object.
"The spear was certainly thrown at the mammoth from a distance, as evidenced by the force with which it stuck into an animal - the blade had to pierce two centimetres thick skin and an eight-centimetre layer of fat to finally reach the bone" - says the expert. The blow to the rib was not fatal to the animal. But the attack probably involved several hunters and one of them struck the animal in another place, which led to its death. "Probably directly into soft tissues and one of the organs" - Wojtal adds.
Similar finds from the Paleolithic period are very rare. Flint blades embedded in the bones are preserved only in the case of larger animals. "There are known cases from Europe concerning the remains of bears found in Germany" - Wojtal says.
Edited from Science in Poland (7 January 2019), LiveScience (18 January 2019)
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