The mystery behind the extinction of the mighty cave lion has gotten a fresh twist. According to a new study, the hunting spree of Upper Paleolithic humans might have hastened the animal's extinction. The cave lion's pelt may have been used as home décor and also for ritualistic purposes.

It may be recalled that the Eurasian cave lion (Panthera spelaea) was one of the largest lions to have walked the earth. It went extinct some 14,000 years ago.

They were dreaded predators and roamed the forests of Europe all the way to Alaska. Hefty in size, at 11 feet in length and 700 pounds of weight, they would have made today's African lions look like pygmies.

New findings obtained from Spain's La Garma cave are adding credence to such assumptions. The cave is known for sacred rituals. The researchers unearthed proof of cave lion pelt having been used as rugs or roof by the Paleolithic humans who inhabited these caves.

The study was led by Edgard Camarós of Spain's Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution. The researchers found a treasure of cave lion fossils in northern Spain's cave called La Garma.

The team discovered fossils of nine claw bones belonging to the extinct cave lion from a ritual site. The findings have now been published in the journal PLOS One.

Since they could find only the cave lion's claws inside the cave, it is assumed that prehistoric people might have skinned the cave lions but kept their claws intact and placed their pelt over huts.

The disintegration of the skin and fur spanning thousands of years might have left only the claw bones behind.

The markings found on the claws looked similar to the scratches made by human tools, indicating the expertise of ancient men in skinning those huge lions.

"The (cave) lion is a difficult and dangerous animal to hunt, and it probably played an important role as a trophy and for use in rituals," said lead author Marián Cueto, wife of Camarós and a zooarcheologist at the University of Cantabria in Spain.

Numbering more than 4,000, they also bore evidence of human modification. It was special since it was the first time cave lion remains were found in La Garma.

Crucial Evidence from Claw Bones

The claw bones belonging to the cave lions showed that not only were the cave lions hunted down; they were also hung in front of homes.

Evidence in the past revealed that humans in the Middle Pleistocene period used to consume cave lions, while the Upper Paleolithic men used the teeth for making ornaments and tools.

The signs of modification of cave lion claw bones bore vivid indications of techniques used by modern hunters in skinning the prey.

However, there is the contention that it is hard to accept that prehistoric people were using the lion's fur for rituals, according to Hervé Bocherens, a paleobiologist at the University of Tubingen in Germany.

Unlike what the study suggests, evidence exists that cave art or portable objects from other regions were also linked to cave lions.

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