Chasse au mammouth et autres proboscidiens

Les humains au paléolithique chassaient le mammouth régulièrement, parfois intensivement, en Europe, Asie et Amérique du nord. L’intensité de la chasse a probablement contribué, sans être le facteur unique, à la disparition des mammouths, comme de plusieurs autres très gros animaux, à la fin du pléistocène.
Dans d’autres régions du globe, c’est l’éléphant ou le mastodonte américain qui étaient chassés.


Stable isotopes reveal patterns of diet and mobility in the last Neandertals and first modern humans in Europe
Wibing et al.
Nature Scientific Reports, 2019

For both UPMH individuals, the two most relevant prey species are the mammoth and the reindeer. Each species comprised roughly 25–30% of the meat protein source. The rhinoceros contributed ca. 15 to 20%, the bovines and horses around 10% of the dietary proteins. Cave bears played the least important role, with a maximum contribution of around 5% of the total protein intake. These results are similar to those of Neandertals, which indicates that both UPMHs and Neandertals had a similar prey choice with preference for mammoth and reindeer.
[…] The zooarchaeological records from Goyet and Spy fully support mammoth hunting episodes with a special preference for younger individuals and possibly their mothers. Interestingly, based on stable isotopes, the mammoth seems to contribute the major part of the dietary protein of humans in a time range between 50,000 and 30,000 years ago and across wide areas spanning from SW France to the Crimean Peninsula

Mammouth pourcentages consommation

The earliest direct evidence of mammoth hunting in Central Europe – The Kraków Spadzista site (Poland)
Piotr Wojtal et al.
Quaternary science review, 2019

The oldest unequivocal evidence of mammoth hunting in prehistoric Central Europe has been found in the Gravettian archaeological site Kraków Spadzista (Poland). The site contains thousands of lithic artifacts and the remains of >100 woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius), with radiocarbon dates clustering ∼25–24 ka uncal BP. A fragment of a flint shouldered point is embedded in a mammoth rib, and more than 50% of the site’s flint shouldered points and backed blades bear diagnostic traces of hafting and impact damage from use as spear tips. Additional support for mammoth killing is the mortality profile of 112 mammoths from the site: some age groups may have been depleted due to recurring heavy hunting by humans during periods of environmental stress. The evidence for intensive human hunting could portend a development thousands of years later, at the end of the Pleistocene, when climate-caused habitat changes were more extreme, and, in combination with opportunistic human hunting, may have led to woolly mammoth extinction.

Elephant and Mammoth Hunting during the Paleolithic: A Review of the Relevant Archaeological, Ethnographic and Ethno-Historical Records
Aviad Agam & Ran Barkai
Quaternary, 2018
This study examines the archaeological evidence of proboscidean hunting during Paleolithic times, and provides a review of ethnographic and ethno-historical accounts, demonstrating a wide range of traditional elephant-hunting strategies. We also discuss the rituals accompanying elephant hunting among contemporary hunter-gatherers, further stressing the importance of elephants among hunter-gatherers. Based on the gathered data, we suggest that early humans possessed the necessary abilities to actively and regularly hunt proboscideans; and performed this unique and challenging task at will.

Climate warming and humans played different roles in triggering Late Quaternary extinctions in east and west Eurasia
Xinru Wan & Zhibing Zhang
The royal society publishings, 2017

Here, our analyses showed that temperature change had significant effects on mammoth (genus Mammuthus), rhinoceros (Rhinocerotidae), horse (Equidae) and deer (Cervidae). Rapid global warming was the predominant factor driving the total extinction of mammoths and rhinos in frigid zones from the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene. Humans showed significant, negative effects on extirpations of the four mammalian taxa, and were the predominant factor causing the extinction or major extirpations of rhinos and horses. Deer survived both rapid climate warming and extensive human impacts.

Isotopic analyses suggest mammoth and plant in the diet of the oldest anatomically modern humans from far southeast Europe
Drucker et al.
Nature scientific reports, 2017

The inferred human trophic position values point to terrestrial-based diet, meaning a significant contribution of mammoth meat, in addition to a clear intake of plant protein.

Records of Growth and Weaning in Fossil Proboscidean Tusks as Tests of Pleistocene Extinction Mechanisms.
Michael Dennis Cherney
University of Michigan Library, 2016

Tusk analyses for Ziegler Reservoir mastodons (Snowmass Village, CO) show no evidence that populations were struggling during the previous interglacial (Sangamonian) when climate was similar to current conditions. Poor nutrition is likely to result in later weaning age in mammals. However, in the interval of warming leading up to their extinction, Siberian woolly mammoths were apparently weaning earlier than they had been during the last glacial maximum. The shift to earlier weaning at the end of the Pleistocene refutes climate-related nutritional stress as a mechanism for their extinction. Population pressure from human hunting, which is expected to result in earlier weaning, is a more likely explanation for mammoth population declines.

Early human presence in the Arctic: Evidence from 45,000-year-old mammoth remains
Pitulko et al.
Science, 2016

Archaeological evidence for human dispersal through northern Eurasia before 40,000 years ago is rare. In west Siberia, the northernmost find of that age is located at 57°N. Elsewhere, the earliest presence of humans in the Arctic is commonly thought to be circa 35,000 to 30,000 years before the present. A mammoth kill site in the central Siberian Arctic, dated to 45,000 years before the present, expands the populated area to almost 72°N. The advancement of mammoth hunting probably allowed people to survive and spread widely across northernmost Arctic Siberia.

Reconstruction of the Gravettian food-web at Předmostí I using multi-isotopic tracking (13C, 15N, 34S) of bone collagen
Bocherens et al., 2015
Strong reliance on mammoth meat was found for the human of the site, similarly to previously analyzed individuals from other Gravettian sites in Moravia. Interestingly, the large canids interpreted as “Palaeolithic dogs” had a high proportion of reindeer/muskox in their diet, while consumption of mammoth would be expected from the availability of this prey especially in case of close interaction with humans. The peculiar isotopic composition of the Palaeolithic dogs of Předmostí I may indicate some control of their dietary intake by Gravettian people, who could have use them more for transportation than hunting purpose.

Hunters of the giants: Woolly mammoth hunting during the Gravettian in Central Europe
Piotr Wojtal & Jaroslaw Wilczynsky

Quaternary international, 2015

Between 30,000 and 20,000 years ago, Gravettian hunter-gatherers spread across most of Europe. In Central Europe, large and important sites have been discovered, especially those in the Czech Republic at the base of the Pavlovské (Palava) Hills, and in southern Poland. The remains of different mammalian carnivores and herbivores accumulated in bone assemblages at these Gravettian sites. Mammoth bones and teeth are significant components in them. Mammoths certainly played a significant role in the lifetime of the Central European societies of Gravettian hunter-gatherers. These Pleistocene giants provided not only food, but also raw materials for tools and the production of ornaments. The presence of the remains of many mammoths shows that the Gravettian people were specialized in the hunting of these animals.

In the elephant, everything is good: Carcass use and re-use at Castel di Guido (Italy)
Giovanni Boschian & Daniela Saccà
Quaternary international, 2015
(Dans un numéro fabuleux :
The Origins of Recycling: A Paleolithic Perspective)

These aspects indicate that the bones of large taxa, mostly elephant, were part of a complex subsistence system characterised by hunting and scavenging on one side, and an extremely fuzzy boundary among use, re-use and recycling on the other one. This system was based on the recycling – or transfunctionalisation – of the carcasses, which were exploited for food consumption (meat and possibly marrow), and later for raw material procurement over a long time of permanence and availability on the surface of the site.

How do you kill 86 mammoths? Taphonomic investigations of mammoth megasites
Pat Shipman, 2014

« The large number of individual mammoths and the scarcity of carnivore toothmarks and gnawing suggest a new ability to retain kill mammoths and control of carcasses. Age profiles of such mammoth-dominated sites with a large minimum number of individuals differ statistically at the p < 0.01 level from age profiles of Loxodonta africana populations that died of either attritional or catastrophic causes. However, age profiles from some mammoth sites exhibit a chain of linked resemblances with each other through time and space, suggesting the transmission of behavioral or technological innovation. I hypothesize that this innovation may have been facilitated by an early attempted domestication of dogs, as indicated by a group of genetically and morphologically distinct large canids which first appear in archaeological sites at about 32 ka B.P. »

Not one but two mammoth hunting strategies in the Gravettian of the Pavlov Hills area (southern Moravia)
Alexis Brugère
Quaternary international, 2014

two hunting strategies have been identified in the Pavlov Hills area: one affecting subadults and adults, and the second one affecting young and subadult individuals. Chronology and the physical condition of the mammoth population are not convincing arguments to explain such a difference. Human behaviour was involved, and we suggest economic goals related to mammoth resources were the reasons for such a hunting selection.

Evidence from the Yana Palaeolithic site, Arctic Siberia, yields clues to the riddle of mammoth hunting
Pavel Nikolskiy & Vladimir Pitulko
Journal of archeological science, 2013

The data suggest that Palaeolithic Yana humans hunted mammoths sporadically, presumably when ivory was needed for making tools. Such non-intensive hunting practiced by humans over millennia would not be fatal to a sustainable mammoth population.

Man the Fat Hunter: The Demise of Homo erectus and the Emergence of a New Hominin Lineage in the Middle Pleistocene (ca. 400 kyr) Levant

Miki Ben-Dor, Avi Gopher, Israel Hershkovitz, Ran Barkai, 2011.

The worldwide association of H. erectus with elephants is well documented and so is the preference of humans for fat as a source of energy. We show that rather than a matter of preference, H. erectus in the Levant was dependent on both elephants and fat for his survival.

Pre-Clovis Mastodon Hunting 13,800 Years Ago at the Manis Site, Washington
Michael R. Waters et al.
Science, 2011

The Manis site, combined with evidence of mammoth hunting at sites in Wisconsin, provides evidence that people were hunting proboscideans at least two millennia before Clovis.

Possible evidence of mammoth hunting during the Epigravettian at Yudinovo, Russian Plain
Germonpré et al.
Journal of anthropological archeology, 2008

The combination of the homogeneous weathering rate of the mammoth bones, the isolated state of most of the skeletal elements, the restricted spatial range of the carnivore gnawing traces, the breakage pattern of the skulls and long bones, the sex ratio, the small body size of the adult mammoths, the age profile (with an important frequency of prime-aged cows), and the large number of individuals, suggest that the bone complexes at Yudinovo were constructed from body parts and bones that were extracted from freshly killed mammoths and that mammoth hunting was practised at this site during the Epigravettian.

Climate Change, Humans, and the Extinction of the Woolly Mammoth
Nogués-Bravo et al.
PLOS Biology, 2008

Results of the population models also show that the collapse of the climatic niche of the mammoth caused a significant drop in their population size, making woolly mammoths more vulnerable to the increasing hunting pressure from human populations. The coincidence of the disappearance of climatically suitable areas for woolly mammoths and the increase in anthropogenic impacts in the Holocene, the coup de grâce, likely set the place and time for the extinction of the woolly mammoth.

Late Pleistocene mammoth herd structure, migration patterns, and Clovis hunting strategies inferred from isotopic analyses of multiple death assemblages
Kathryn A. Hoppe
Paleobiology, 2004

High levels of variability in each of the isotope systems at Clovis sites suggest that all of the sites examined represent time-averaged accumulations of unrelated individuals, rather than the mass deaths of family groups.

Grandes proies ou petites proies ?

Une idée naïve, partagée très largement, est qu’il aurait été plus facile aux humains du paléolithique de chasser de petites proies plutôt que des grandes. L’avis scientifique est plutôt inverse : chasser de petites proies nécessite plus de compétences techniques et cognitives que chasser de grandes proies. On a par exemple longtemps supposé que la disparition de Néandertal pouvait être liée au fait qu’il n’était pas assez sophistiqué pour chasser efficacement de petites proies, ce qui lui aurait causé un désavantage compétitif face aux Homo sapiens arrivant en Europe. Ce n’est pas le cas, mais il reste bien qu’acquérir des proies relativement grosses ou carrément grosses est plus facile qu’acquérir des petites proies. Parce qu’il faut en chasser moins pour obtenir le même résultat, parce qu’il est plus facile de les garder en vue durant une traque, parce que ce sont des cibles plus grosses, etc. De plus, les capacités de coopération particulièrement importantes des homonidés et leur usage d’armes, même peu sophistiquées, leur ont probablement permis d’accéder à des animaux auxquels les autres prédateurs s’intéressent guère, leur permettant d’exploiter une niche à faible compétition et fort retour.


Brain expansion in early hominins predicts carnivore extinctions in East Africa
Faurby et al.
Ecology letters, 2020

hunting hominins are likely to behave in similar ways to other carnivores (Carbone et al. 1999) by focussing on relatively large prey (i.e. species of approximately the same body mass as themselves), selecting a few large prey items, rather than many small, and therefore competing more with large than with small carnivores.

Le rôle des petites proies augmente progressivement durant le paléolithique, et leur chasse s’intensifie lors de la transition pléistocène holocène.

The role of small prey in hunter–gatherer subsistence strategies from the Late Pleistocene–Early Holocene transition site in NE Iberia: the leporid accumulation from the Epipalaeolithic level of Balma del Gai site
Rosado-Mendez et al.
Archeological and anthropological science, 2019

certain assumptions about energy return balances and the difficulty of a mass capture of individuals without a minimum of appropriate technology for exploitation to be economically profitable call into question that there is a specialized exploitation of this type of prey before the emergence and expansion of anatomically modern humans

Les paléoanthropologues lient la capacité de Néandertaliens à chasser le lapin à l’acquisition de « stratégies de chasse avancées » :

The exploitation of rabbits for food and pelts by last interglacial Neandertals
Pelletier et al.
Quaternary science review, 2019

The capture of such a hight number of this small mammal potentially required sophisticated acquisition techniques formerly known only from Upper Palaeolithic contexts. […] In fact, despite the typically low return rates compared to ungulates (Speth and Spielmann, 1983; Ugan, 2005), the socio-economic potential of leporids is also reflected by the fact that both their bones and pelts can be exploited. The regular incorporation of small game in subsistence strategies during earlier periods, particularly the Middle Paleolithic, has been questioned by some researchers who argue that Neandertals, unlike modern humans, lacked the cognitive capacity and/or a sufficiently well-developed technology for regularly exploiting small game. […] The pattern of Middle Palaeolithic rabbit exploitation documented at Pié Lombard currently finds no equivalent in Europe for this period and provides indirect evidence for the development of advanced hunting strategies by Neandertals during MIS 5-4 as well as their advanced cognitive capacities.

Il a été supposé que Néandertal aurait été moins capable de s’adapter à la chasse de petites proies, et, lorque la biomasse des grosses a diminué, cela lui aurait été fatal. On suppose désormais qu’il avait lui aussi la capacité technique de chasser des petites proies.

Rabbits and hominin survival in Iberia
Fa et al.
Journal of human evolution, 2013

We suggest that hunters that could shift focus to rabbits and other smaller residual fauna, once larger-bodied species decreased in numbers, would have been able to persist. From the evidence presented here, we postulate that Neanderthals may have been less capable of prey-shifting and hence use the high-biomass prey resource provided by the rabbit, to the extent AMH did.


Recent elephant-carcass utilization as a basis for interpreting mammoth exploitation
Haynes, 2015


Charles R. Knight cro-magnon painting