In modern times, lions symbolize strength and courage for their dominance in the wild. Global efforts have helped prevent the species from becoming extinct, but they remain vulnerable. Their prehistoric relatives were less fortunate.

European cave lion

Interesting selection on LifeGlobe: Creepy ancestors of modern animals

Most closely related to modern lion species and the largest lion species ever, the Eurasian cave lion roamed the Bering Bridge from Europe to Alaska until its extinction 14,000 years ago. What is known about the lion has come from fossils and prehistoric art prints on cave walls created by Upper Paleolithic people. Based on a fossil found in Germany, an adult Eurasian cave lion reached 1 meter in height and more than 2 meters in length without a tail – the same size as a modern lion.

Eurasian lion

Experts believe that the extinction of the Eurasian cave lion was the result of several factors, such as overhunting, climate change, changing prey, or changing species. Recent research has focused on how prehistoric humans hunted the Eurasian cave lion for its fur, which contributed to its extinction.

rock drawing

Archaeological evidence has shown that the first humans, who lived between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago, hunted small and large carnivores, with little evidence that they hunted lions. A team of experts from the University of Cantabria in Spain, led by Marian Cueto, sought to shed new light on the hunter-prey relationship between upper prehistoric humans and the Eurasian cave lion.

See also: Extinct Tasmanian tiger may still roam the planet

The team examined nine fossilized cave lion toe bones from the Upper Palaeolithic La Garma cave in northern Spain. The La Garma site, discovered in 1995, has been associated with prehistoric human rituals, and the cave lions were probably symbolic animals for Upper Paleolithic people. Marks on the bones show that ancient people used the same method as modern hunters when skinning an animal.

skeletal reconstruction

Researchers believe that the toe bones are part of a single lion skin that was spread across the floor of the cave for decoration, or warmth. The presence at this site of the remains of other predators, such as bears, also showing anthropic changes, is indicative of the successful hunting of dangerous predators,” the team wrote.

Scientists do not know how ancient people could capture and kill the Eurasian cave lion, a muscular, huge and dangerous predator. Instead, they suggested that hunting Eurasian cave lions may have been a coming-of-age ritual. Rock paintings from Upper Paleolithic sites show the hierarchical position of lions in the early symbolic world of people, giving them an important role in culture.

mammoths and lions

Although the study has not determined with certainty that Upper Paleolithic humans used the Eurasian cave lion for its fur, hunting was a major factor in their extinction.

This shows that ancient people were no different from modern people in terms of their desire to hunt, whether for symbolic or financial reasons. The story of the Eurasian cave lion illustrates that modern humans must continue their conservation efforts today to ensure that they do not disappear tomorrow.