Neanderthals were fearless hunters. Studies have shown that they hunted these giant animals

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4 min readFeb 6, 2023

A new study has found that Neanderthals hunted a species of elephant, which was the largest land mammal of the Pleistocene. Scientists say they fared well when confronted with the giant creatures because they formed larger hunting groups than previously thought.

Homo Neanderthalensis Adult Male Reconstruction — [Artist: John GurchePhotographer: Chip Clark, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons]

Palaeoloxodon antiquus is an extinct species of elephant that was up to three times the size of its modern relatives in the order Trumpetidae. Males reached heights of up to 4 meters and weighed more than 10–12 tons. During the Pleistocene, they were Europe’s largest land mammals. The last individuals probably became extinct about 33–34 thousand years ago.

Neanderthals hunted giant elephants during the Pleistocene period

Until now, scientists have been unsure whether these animals became extinct due to interactions with humans, or whether their disappearance was caused by climate change. It is known that Palaeoloxodon antiquus retreated to southern Europe during glacial periods, while they migrated north during interglacial periods. Moreover, these mammals survived longest on the Iberian Peninsula.

Palaeoloxodon antiquus reproduction — [Photo: Jl FilpoC, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

German scientists in a recent study have discovered evidence that as early as 125,000 years ago, Neanderthals hunted these giant creatures. The researchers were led to this conclusion by the remains of P. antiquus. More than 70 bones of the species were discovered in the 1980s near Halle in central Germany. Paleontologists say that Homo neanderthalensis killed Pleistocene elephants and used their hides and meat for more than 2,000 years.

This is the first such clear evidence of elephant hunting

“Hunting these giant elephants and successfully attempting to kill them was part of Neanderthal hunting activities that ensured their survival in the region,” — stresses Wil Roebroeks, co-author of the study and professor of archaeology at the Dutch University of Leiden. “This is also the first such clear evidence of elephant hunting by Neanderthals,”…

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