The bones of an early human that lived in Morocco half-a-million years ago show evidence of a dinner date with a hyena. In a study published Wednesday in PLOS ONE, researchers led by Camille Daujeard of the French National Museum of Natural History report that the bite-marked thighbone provides rare evidence of early, violent interactions between humans and large carnivores.
Based on where early humans lived during that period (the mid-Pleistocene) scientists know that our ancestors and cousins must have competed for food and other resources with some formidable — and often carnivorous — opponents. But evidence of direct, violent interaction is rare.
There's no way to know whether this unfortunate Homo rhodesiensis, found in a cave called Grotte à Hominidés, was killed by predators or simply eaten after dying of other causes. But based on the tooth marks found on their femur, researchers say, there's little doubt that some large beast — perhaps an extinct relative of a modern hyena — ate them to the bone not long after their demise.
But don't feel too bad for our long-dead relatives: They probably gave these large carnivores a run for their money.
"We know that hominins were quite capable of slaughtering large gregarious prey, of evicting large carnivores off of their habitats and even occasionally hunting or exploiting them," Daujeard told Live Science.
In fact, in a cave called Grotte des Rhinocéros located less than a mile away, scientists have found signs of "a rich accumulation of animals hunted and consumed by humans," the study says. The contrast between these two locations indicates a tenuous balance between humankind and their fellow animals. In those days, whether humans were the hunters or the hunted may have depended on little more than luck.