A portion of a cave bear jaw with the original molars and canine tooth. The roots of the teeth are exposed, showing different tones of the bones. The teeth are well preserved with minimal damage.
Measurements: ~6-1/2" long x 1-1/2" deep x 3-3/4" tall
Time Period: Pleistocene Epoch / Ice Age
The Cave Bear, or "Ursus spelaeus," was a massive omnivore that lived in Europe during the Pleistocene period and became extinct around 28,000 years ago. This enormous animal is thought to be a relative to today’s brown bear but it was significantly larger. Adult males averaged half a ton in weight, and when standing on their hind legs they were up to 10 feet tall! That would put them comparably in size to the largest of modern-day Kodiak and Polar bears.
Unlike other bears, which used their caves mainly for hibernation, Cave Bears spent much more time in their caves. It's not uncommon to find the fossilized skeletal remains of several cave bear families from different generations in the same cave.
This dependency on caves may have been what did the Ursa spelaeus in, as it was one of the first Ice Age species to go extinct. While the brown bear was more flexible in its habitat, Cave Bears had a difficult time hibernating outside of caves - a shelter that ancient humans were also drawn to. This dwindling supply of a very specialized habitat, along with a specific diet vulnerable to climate change, precipitated the decline of the Ursus spelaeus.
While the overlap between our ancestors and the Cave Bear may have been brief before they disappeared, it appears as though they were not forgotten. Evidence of Cave Bear remains being used for rituals and possibly worship by Neanderthals has been found in several caves throughout Europe. Our ancestors likely had to interact frequently with the remains of Cave Bears as they took over habitation of caves that provided shelter for these bears for up to 100,000 years.
*Cave bear material is becoming increasingly more difficult to obtain. Crime syndicates and local governments make collecting very difficult. Simultaneously, the caves are simply running out of material. Collectors of this type of material would be well advised to obtain it, while it is still available.