Chronological and Isotopic data support a revision for the timing of cave bear extinction in Mediterranean Europe


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January 2019


The Cave Bear, Ursus spelaeus (sensu lato), was one of many megafaunal species that became extinct during the Late Pleistocene in Europe. With new data we revisit the debate about the extinction and paleoecology of this species by presenting new chronometric, isotopic and taphonomic evidence from two Palaeolithic cave bear sites in northeastern Italy: Paina Cave and Trene Cave. Two direct radiocarbon dates on well-preserved collagen have yielded ages around 24,200–23,500 cal yr BP, which make them the latest known representatives of the species in Europe. The carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotopic values of bone collagen exhibit values similar to those of older cave bears from Swabian Jura and France, suggesting that the feedings preferences of cave bears remained unchanged until the disappearance of this species in Europe. Several bear remains preserved traces of human modification such as cut marks, which enables a reconstruction of the main steps of fur recovery and the butchering process. The broad range of plant types available and the favorable location of Berici Hills may have played an important role in the range expansion of cave bears and their interaction with the Paleolithic hunters settled the same area.


Cave Bear, Extinction, Stable Isotopes, Cave Bear Hunting, Paleoecology, Northeast Italy

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Journal of Archaeological Science, Vol. 31, no. 4 (2019).