Researchers from the Muséum National D’Histoire Naturelle in France, found a 500,000-year-old hominin femur, the size of an adult’s femur, in the cave Grotte à Hominidés near Casablanca in Morocco that shows the first evidence that humans used to be prey for large carnivores. The study was published in the new edition of the journal PLOS ONE, on April 27.

The bone of the hominin shows teeth marks, which suggest that a large carnivore, most likely a hyena, bit it and, probably, ate the human ancestor.

A 500,000-year-old hominin femur may indicate that early humans may have been preys for hyenas. Credit: Reddit

Hominins vs. Hyenas

Camille Daujeard from the Muséum National D’Histoire Naturelle, one of the researchers of the study, pointed out that early humans used to compete for space and resources with carnivores, since both occupied many of the same areas during the Middle Pleistocene. Nonetheless, not much evidence had been found of the direct interaction between these two species, until now, because the fossilized femur provides definitive evidence that carnivores ate early humans in North Africa during the Middle Pleistocene era.

The pattern of the bite on the chewed bone resembles features of the biting of a cave hyena, a type of hyena that is slightly larger than the modern species, and who does not exist anymore, according to Professor Jean-Jacques Hublin, from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Germany, and who also participated in the study.

Multiple bone fragments were also revealed in the study, as well as tooth pits and other scores and notches. These were grouped together at the two ends of the femur, and the softer parts of the bone were completely crushed. The bite marks were covered with sediment, suggesting that they were very old.

Nevertheless, it cannot be proven if the hominin was attacked and killed by the hyena or was consumed right after death.

This study is the first evidence that humans were a resource of food for carnivores during the Middle Pleistocene in this part of Morocco. This suggests, also, that hominins at this time could have been both hunters and scavengers, depending on the circumstances, which means that it could have been targeted as carrion or prey.

The discovery is supported by evidence from another ancient site nearby the cave that shows that hominins in Morocco hunted hyena during the same time period.

The cave is famous for its ancient human bones and stone tools that are usually found in it, which represents a population of Homo rhodesiensis, a type of early human.

Source: PLOS ONE