Kraków/ The first evidence in Europe that man was hunting mammoths discovered

Photo: P. Wojtal
Photo: P. Wojtal

In the ice age, the inhabitants of today`s Europe were hunting mammoths with javelins. The first direct evidence of this is a fragment of a 25,000 years old flint head discovered in Kraków, stuck in a mammoth rib.

The find comes from one of the largest clusters of mammoth bones in Europe, which is located in the area of today`s V. Hofman street, near the Kościuszko Mound in Kraków. As a result of many years of excavations, archaeologists have discovered the remains of at least 110 mammoths from approx. 25,000 years ago.

"Among tens of thousands of bones, during a detailed analysis of the remains, I came across a damaged mammoth rib. It turned out that a fragment of a flint arrowhead was stuck in it. This is the first such find from the Ice Age in Europe!" - told PAP Dr. Piotr Wojtal from the Institute of Systematics and Evolution of Animals PAS in Kraków. The analyses, co-financed with the National Science Centre grants, are conducted jointly with Dr. Jarosław Wilczyński.

Wojtal reminds that the scientific community has been discussing for years how our ancestors killed mammoths. According to some researchers, these animals were killed by trickery - chasing them to the pits or towards bluffs, from which they would fall. Others say that people focused on weaker or sick animals. Some think that mammoths were hunted.

"We finally have a +smoking gun+, the first direct evidence of how these animals were hunted" - notes the archaeozoologist.

So far, similar finds are known only from two Siberian sites.

The bone with the flint blade was discovered already in 2002. Since bone damage is small, it was only discovered in February 2018 during detailed archaeozoological analyses. During this research, each of tens of thousands of bone fragments is carefully inspected.

The blade fragment preserved in the bone is only 7 mm long. Scientists believe that it is a flint tip broken off at the moment of driving a spear into the body of a mammoth.

So far, among the bones of mammoths and other animals found near the cluster of animal remains in Kraków, archaeologists have discovered several hundred fragments of flint blades (so it was a mass product), of which about half were broken at the tip, probably after hitting a hard object. "The tip of one of them has now been discovered inside a bone" - adds the scientist.

"The spear was certainly thrown at the mammoth from a distance, as evidenced by the force with which it stuck into an animal - the blade had to pierce two centimetres thick skin and an eight-centimetre layer of fat to finally reach the bone" - says the expert.

The blow to the rib was not fatal to the animal. But the attack probably involved several hunters and one of them struck the animal in another place, which led to its death. "Probably directly into soft tissues and one of the organs" - Wojtal adds.

Similar finds from the Paleolithic period are very rare. Flint blades embedded in the bones are preserved only in the case of larger animals. "There are known cases from Europe concerning the remains of bears found in Germany" - Wojtal says.

Mammoths appeared in Europe about 500 thousand years ago. Their youngest remains from Poland are approx. 13,000 years old. These animals reached over 3 m in height and weighed up to 6 tons.

Mammoths began to die out around 15 thousand years ago. They survived longer in Alaska and in north-east Russia on Wrangel Island - until the third millennium BC. The changing climatic conditions associated with the end of the ice age are considered to be the main cause of their extinction. But it can not be ruled out that man also contributed to the extinction of these large mammals at the end of the ice age.

The Kraków cluster of mammoth bones is unique in Europe. Among the remains of animals, archaeologists also find hundreds of various flint tools that were used to process skins and meat.

The site was discovered accidentally in 1967. Since then, archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology of the Jagiellonian University have been working there on and off. According to the researchers, the area where the bones are being discovered was ideal for ambushing mammoths - perhaps they were hunted when they were unable to escape.

PAP - Science in Poland, Szymon Zdziebłowski

szz/ zan/ kap/

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Gallery (3 images)

  • Photo: P. Wojtal
    Photo: P. Wojtal
  • Photo: P. Wojtal
    Photo: P. Wojtal
  • Photo: Jarosław Wilczyński
    Photo: Jarosław Wilczyński
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