Prehistoric bear bones found in Chauvet Cave
French researchers find 30,000-year-old bear bones in a cave known for its Stone Age art.
28 October 2008
PARIS - The ancestor of two main species of bear lived around 1.6 million years ago, according to analysis of bones found in the Chauvet Cave in southern France, known for its Stone Age artwork.
Well-preserved bear bones found in the cave were carbon-dated to 32,000 years ago, French researchers said in a study published on Monday.
Cave bears (Ursus spelaeus) lived in Europe and the Middle East from around 300,000 years ago to around 15,000 years ago, when they became extinct, they said.
The scientists also retrieved pieces of DNA from the bones and reassembled the sequence.
They then used this sample to calculate the species' history, using a method based on a regular rhythm of genetic change.
The cave bear was related to the brown bear and polar bear, and all descended from a common ancestor that lived around 1.6 million years ago, the investigators found.
The paper, by a team from the Institute of Biology and Technologies at France's Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), appears in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
It is the first time that DNA was recovered from remains of prehistoric animals located below the earth.
The trick was carried out on woolly mammoths and mastodons, whose remains were found in Siberian permafrost, and on a flightless New Zealand bird, the moa, which became extinct several hundred years ago.
Caves, while less favourable than deep cold as a form of preservation, ensure stable temperatures of 12-15 degrees Celsius and are sheltered from ultraviolet light.
The Chauvet Cave, located in the Ardeche region of southern France, has the oldest-known cave paintings, with handprints and depictions of horses and other animals dated to around 30,000-32,000 years ago.
[AFP / Expatica]