Hyenas have watched our entire history. It was easy given that they had a
few million years’ head start on us. The earliest of their kind evolved
from civet-like ancestors over 15 million years ago, while our earliest
human ancestors didn’t break away from other apes until about 6 million
years ago. Hyenas were loping around long before humans tried to hit
the ground running.
And of all the hyenas that ever lived, there’s one
species whose paw had quite an influence shaping our past. It was the
largest bone-crusher ever known, Pachycrocuta brevirostris.
Follow our ancestor’s fossil trail and you’ll run into the lion-sized
hyena at various spots through the Old World. About 1.3 million years
ago, in southeastern Spain, humans and Pachycrocuta jockeyed for possession of a delectable elephant carcass. The humans of China’s Dragon Bone Hill didn’t fare quite so well.
Most of the Homo erectus scraped up from the 750,000 – 400,000 year old cave sediments show how the local Pachycroctua
busted up their bodies. But whether as rivals or prey, our fate was
tied to theirs for an immense span of time.
For hundreds of thousands of
years after humans left Africa, paleontologist Joan Madurell-Malapeira
and colleagues concluded in a recent paper, our forebears competed with Pachycrocuta for rights to meaty megafaunal carcasses…