Extinction chronology and palaeobiology of the cave bear (Ursus spelaeus)

Martina Pacher
Anthony J. Suart

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The cave bear (Ursus spelaeus ) was one of several spectacular megafaunal species that became extinct in northern Eurasia during the late Quaternary. Vast numbers of their remains have been recovered from many cave sites, almost certainly representing animals that died during winter hibernation. On the evidence of skull anatomy and low δ15N values of bone collagen, cave bears appear to have been predominantly vegetarian. The diet probably included substantial high quality herbaceous vegetation. In order to address the reasons for the extinction of the cave bear, we have constructed a chronology using only radiocarbon dates produced directly on cave bear material. The date list is largely drawn from the literature, and as far as possible the dates have been audited (screened) for reliability. We also present new dates from our own research, including results from the Urals. U. spelaeus probably disappeared from the Alps and adjacent areas – currently the only region for which there is fairly good evidence –c . 24 000 radiocarbon years BP (c . 27 800 cal. yr BP), approximately coincident with the start of Greenland Stadial 3 (c . 27 500 cal. yr BP). Climatic cooling and inferred decreased vegetational productivity were probably responsible for its disappearance from this region. We are investigating the possibility that cave bear survived significantly later elsewhere, for example in southern or eastern Europe.