Meat… your ancestors

Time for a hyena history lesson.
The hyena pictured below is Pachycrocuta brevirostris, a species that lived from 3.5 to 0.5 million years ago. These hyenas were big, really big, with the type specimen’s skull measuring 32.2 centimetres at the base. To give you an idea of just how big that is, the length for the average south African, male lion is only 29.4 cm. The massive head was on an equally massive neck, attached to a very stout body on legs built for strength, rather than speed. They say this hyena was a hyper-scavenger but, considering its size, it could probably have hunted big, slow animals.
Incidentally, the type specimen was found in Sainzelles, France. Yes, these giants were everywhere, from the British Isles to southern Africa, across to Java and northern China. And our ancestors saw their fair share of these hyenas; they migrated out of Africa at about the same time and Pachy didn’t become extinct until a million years after that.
During the 1930s at a place called Zhoukoudian in China, Archaeologists were excavating a cave known locally as ‘Dragon Bone Hill.’ the cave was full of fossilised human (Homo erectus) remains: crania, teeth, and assorted bones. The interesting thing about the crania was that they were all damaged and not found in association with their matching jaw bones and so on. Also, the holes in the bases of the skulls had been deliberately enlarged. The conclusion arrived at was that these proto-humans were head hunters. They must have preyed on their own kind and, after having killed an unfortunate individual, cut a hole in the base of the skull to extract, and probably eat, the brains contained within. It wasn’t until 60 years later that the remains were examined more closely and a lot of tooth marks were found on the damaged skulls. The tooth marks were made by a very large carnivore and guess whose fossilised remains were also found in the caves? Zhoukoudian has provided the most abundant and complete specimens of Pachycrocuta in the world. It seems the hyenas were using the caves as living spaces, dragging their unfortunate human victims home to be consumed in privacy; gnawing away at the bases of the skulls to access the lipid-rich treats that only intelligent apes can provide.

2 thoughts on “Meat… your ancestors

  1. I wonder if the bad reputation that hyenas have arose from the fear and hatred early man had toward an animal that preyed on them, and enthusiastically too Once we developed hunting technologies to deal with them (we of the things we came up with were pretty impressive—there’s a book Imagining Head-Smashed-In by one Jack Brink, a curator of a major Canadian museum, that describes.a site used for the mass slaughter of buffalo, the ‘Head-Smashed-In’ of the title), they became an object of ridicule instead of fear, and so…

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