According to a new study, wild animals have been trying to get close to humans for more than 30,000 years. “Food leftovers served as a source of food and attracted them – and that even before humans settled down,” explains Chris Baumann from the Universities of Helsinki and Tübingen, who co-authored the study and researches animal behavior in prehistoric times. For example, ravens in Czech Moravia were attracted by the remains of a mammoth killed by humans. Baumann was able to demonstrate similar behavior in foxes on the Swabian Jura 40,000 years ago.

The researcher, together with colleagues and an international team from the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment, describes the Paleolithic relationships between humans and ravens in the journal “Nature Ecology and Evolution”. The findings therefore strongly suggest that the scavengers benefited from the hunting behavior of humans and that humans used the bones and feathers of the animals.

People brought in food

Many mammoth carcasses were found at the archaeological site in the Czech Republic – but also an above-average number of raven bones for this period. “If we found bird bones, it was raven bones,” said Baumann. Analysis had shown that the birds had eaten the remains of the mammoth. “People were like the ‘main predators’ for birds, who kept bringing food in.”

Today a similar – one speaks in science of a synanthropic – behavior in cities can be observed. The paleo-ecologist explained that pigeons, foxes and other wild animals have settled there because they can live on what people left behind. The current study essentially shows that animals were already doing this before humans settled down 10,000 years ago.

The research field of paleo-synanthropic behavior that Baumann and his colleagues are working on is relatively new, he said. The findings would be made possible by new analysis options in the laboratory, the researcher continued. So far, there are mainly findings on animals as hunting prey. Little is known about the advantages that some animals had in human proximity during the Paleolithic period. Therefore, further comprehensive studies on the evolution of human-animal relationships are important in order to better understand the early ecosystems of Ice Age hunters and gatherers, according to the researchers.