The ecology, subsistence and diet of ~45,000-year-old Homo sapiens at Ilsenhöhle in Ranis, Germany

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

  • Geoff M Smith
  • Karen Ruebens
  • Elena Irene Zavala
  • Virginie Sinet-Mathiot
  • Helen Fewlass
  • Sarah Pederzani
  • Klervia Jaouen
  • Kate Britton
  • Hélène Rougier
  • Mareike Stahlschmidt
  • Matthias Meyer
  • Harald Meller
  • Holger Dietl
  • Jörg Orschiedt
  • Johannes Krause
  • Tim Schüler
  • Shannon P McPherron
  • Marcel Weiss
  • Jean-Jacques Hublin

Recent excavations at Ranis (Germany) identified an early dispersal of Homo sapiens into the higher latitudes of Europe by 45,000 years ago. Here we integrate results from zooarchaeology, palaeoproteomics, sediment DNA and stable isotopes to characterize the ecology, subsistence and diet of these early H. sapiens. We assessed all bone remains (n = 1,754) from the 2016-2022 excavations through morphology (n = 1,218) or palaeoproteomics (zooarchaeology by mass spectrometry (n = 536) and species by proteome investigation (n = 212)). Dominant taxa include reindeer, cave bear, woolly rhinoceros and horse, indicating cold climatic conditions. Numerous carnivore modifications, alongside sparse cut-marked and burnt bones, illustrate a predominant use of the site by hibernating cave bears and denning hyaenas, coupled with a fluctuating human presence. Faunal diversity and high carnivore input were further supported by ancient mammalian DNA recovered from 26 sediment samples. Bulk collagen carbon and nitrogen stable isotope data from 52 animal and 10 human remains confirm a cold steppe/tundra setting and indicate a homogenous human diet based on large terrestrial mammals. This lower-density archaeological signature matches other Lincombian-Ranisian-Jerzmanowician sites and is best explained by expedient visits of short duration by small, mobile groups of pioneer H. sapiens.

Original languageEnglish
JournalNature Ecology & Evolution
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 31 Jan 2024

Bibliographical note

© 2024. The Author(s).

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