Cavemen Accused of Wiping Out Cave Bears

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Giant cave bears thought to have once dined on each other might have been driven to extinction by the advance of humanity, scientists now suggest.

Cave bears (Ursus spelaeus) are named after the places where their bones are often found - caves across Europe. These giants were roughly a third larger than modern grizzly bears, and while scientists previously thought cave bears were vegetarians, recent findings hinted they might also have consumed meat, and possibly even cannibalized each other.

Cave bear populations started to plummet in Europe 24,000 years ago, dying out roughly 20,000 years ago, back when ice dominated the Earth. The cause was unknown.

The scientists compared 59 DNA sequences from cave bear mitochondria - the powerhouses within their cells - with 40 modern and fossil DNA samples from brown bears (Ursus arctos) to find out why the former went extinct while the latter did not.

Their findings suggest that cave bear genetic diversity - a clue to how many there were - began declining 50,000 years ago. Other fossil evidence reveals they ceased to be abundant in Central Europe roughly 35,000 years ago. (Diversity of genes can provide indirect evidence for the number of breeding individuals, because with more bears mating more genes are thrown into the mix, and vice versa.)....

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