April 2, 2014
New Saber-Toothed Cat Discovery Sheds Light On Interactions Between Early Humans And Predators
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At the Schöningen open-cast coal mine in north-central Germany, near Hannover, researchers from the Lower Saxony Heritage Authority and the University of Tübingen have discovered the remains of a saber-toothed cat.
The remains were preserved in rock strata some 300,000 years old, placing them during the Paleolithic Era. The Schöningen mine is famous for the discovery of three wooden spears, unearthed in 1997 by Hartmut Thieme of the Institut für Denkmalpflege. The spears were found in the same stratum as the saber-toothed cat remains, indicating that it is likely that the animal and early humans inhabited the area at the same time.
The researchers say that the discovery of the cat remains sheds new light on the relationship between early humans and predatory animals. At the time in question, the region of the Schöningen mine was the bank of a shallow lake, where the humans were likely confronted by the saber-toothed cats. In such an encounter, the only recourse for the human was to take up his 6-to-7.5 foot long spear and defend himself.
Earlier research, reported in Archaeology Archive, theorized that these spears were hunting weapons, crucial to the settling of Stone Age northern Europe. The presence of such a fierce predator during the same time period suggests that these were also weapons of defense.
The first tooth of a young adult Homotherium latidens was uncovered in October 2012 by a research group from the Lower Saxony heritage authority and archaeologists from the Universities of Tübingen and Leiden. The saber-toothed cat was a formidable animal, measuring more than three feet at the shoulders and weighing nearly 440 pounds. With razor sharp claws and jaws sporting canine teeth more than 4 inches long, the cat would have been a deadly foe for early humans.
This new find provides evidence that the saber-toothed cat died out later in central Europe than previously believed. It is not the only find in the Schöningen mine, either. This same level of excavation has yielded the famous spears, along with bones and stone tools indicating that early humans – probably Homo heidelbergenis – hunted horses and camped along a 300 foot stretch of the lakeside. According to the Smithsonian, H. heidelbergenis was the first early human species to inhabit colder climates, living from approximately 700,000 to 200,000 years ago in a range from Europe to Asia and Africa.
The saber-toothed cat discovery also demonstrates that long before anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) reached Europe some 400,000 years ago, early man was already able to defend himself against highly dangerous animals with his weapon technology.
The results of this study were published in a report by the Lower Saxony Heritage Authority.
Image Below: All the better to eat you with – Reconstruction of the saber-toothed cat, with long canines used to hold on to prey. Credit: Ramon López