In a dark Moroccan cave, 500,000 years ago, an ancient ancestor of modern humans was set upon by large carnivores, most likely hyenas, and consumed. This is one of a few examples that prove hominins were consumed by carnivores.
During the Middle Pleistocene period, it is likely that early humans and large carnivores would have occupied many of the same areas. Therefore, they would have had to compete for that space and its resources. Knowing this, there has been very little evidence showing direct interaction between them.
Camille Daujeard from the Muséum National D’Histoire Naturelle, France, and led author, said in a statement:
“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.”
However, the femur bone of a hominin bared tooth-marks, indicating that it was consumed by large carnivores. According to the study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, the researchers had examined the shaft of the 500,000-year-old hominin femur.
The bone fragment had revealed various fractures as well as tooth marks that are indicative of a carnivore chewing (tooth pits as well as other scores and notches). The tooth marks were concentrated at both ends of the femur with the softer parts of the bone having been completely crushed. The marks were covered with sediment, which suggest they were very old.
The researchers believe the marks were most likely made by hyenas shortly after death judging by the appearance of the marks. However, they note they were unable to “conclude whether the bone had been eaten as a result of predation on the hominin or whether it had been scavenged soon after death.”
Even so, this is still the first piece of evidence that humans were a resource for carnivores during the Middle Pleistocene in this part of Morocco, and contrasts with the evidence from nearby sites that humans had themselves hunted and ate carnivores.
The cave where the bone was found is called “Grotte à Hominidés,” which is near Casablanca. The researcher’s findings concluded that depending on conditions, hominins at this time may have been both hunter and scavenger, and have also been targeted as carrion or prey.