Carnivore conflicts gnaw at Neandertals

Neandertals came into close, perhaps deadly, contact with hyenas that hunted or scavenged the same prey as they did, a new study suggests.

Neandertals and hyenas competed for prey and for protected spots to consume food, Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St. Louis and his coworkers contend in the May 17 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They base their argument on a 2002 discovery of a Neandertal leg bone in a French cave that the researchers say served primarily as a prehistoric hyena den. Bones of ancient horses and bison at the site show marks made by both hyena teeth and stone tools.

The Neandertal leg bone also appears to have been gnawed on by hyenas. The individual represented by that bone was either prey or scavenged after death, the scientists propose.

Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.

More Stories from Science News on Anthropology