Early Humans May Have Been Snacks for Hungry Hyenas

May 2, 2016 | Reece Alvarez

Hyene jaw bone
Photo credit: Dallas Krentzel/flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Hyenas, known for their strong, bone-crushing jaws, may have had a taste for early humans, according to an analysis of 500,000-year-old skeletal remains in Morocco.

Early humans living in the Middle Pleistocene were likely the rivals of large carnivores, competing for both space and resources. Strangely, little evidence for direct interaction between them in this period has been found — until now, according to recent research published in the open-access journal Plos One.

Examining the femur bone of a hominin believed to have lived during the Middle Pleistocene period 500,000 years ago, Camille Daujeard from the Muséum National D'Histoire Naturelle, France, and colleagues have found evidence that indicates our ancestors may have been victims, or at the very least, meals for hungry hyenas.

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"Although encounters and confrontations between archaic humans and large predators of this time period in North Africa must have been common, the discovery ... is one of the few examples where hominin consumption by carnivores is proven," said Daujeard in a press release.

According to the researcher's findings, the ancient femur — found in the Moroccan cave "Grotte à Hominidés" near Casablanca, Morocco —  has tooth markings consistent with carnivore chewing patterns and were likely caused by hyenas.

Tooth marks on a middle pleistocene hominin femur bone

Tooth-marks on the 500,000-year-old hominin femur bone. Photo credit: C. Daujeard Plos One e0152284

While the researchers admit that it is not currently possible to determine if the victim was killed by wild animals or whether the bone had been scavenged after death, the finding still serves as first evidence of humans being consumed by carnivores during the Middle Pleistocene in Morocco.

According to the study, previous archaeological finds in the area have suggested that humans hunted and ate carnivores, but the new research opens up the possibility that predation may have been a two-way street.

The authors suggest that depending on circumstances, hominins at this time could have both acted as hunter or scavenger, and been targeted as carrion or prey.

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