When did lions become extinct in Palestine?

Ice Age: When lions lived in Germany

In Bocherens' view, too little attention is paid to how closely biology and climate are related. Both factors together could change habitats faster than previously thought possible. He observes such a tipping today in tropical regions, where large mammals such as tapirs and forest elephants are becoming extinct. "We are already seeing that certain trees are disappearing there because their seeds can only be eaten and spread by large animals," says the biologist.

Man, of all people, could take on an ecological substitute function here. Because especially plants with large seeds - avocado or cocoa - are mainly cultivated by him. It seems that once the giants have gone, farmers take over the role of elephants and rhinos.

This observation from the tropics could also provide the key to one of the most enigmatic events in Ice Age history: the Neolithic Revolution, the transition from nomadic culture to sedentary agriculture at the end of the last cold period. This upheaval began in the fertile crescent of today's Iraq and Syria, and not in Central Europe. Regardless, people reinvented livestock and the cultivation of grass as a grain several times, be it in China or in South America. Before that, large mammal steppes had existed everywhere there for decades.

Bocherens sees a pattern in this. “Humans started farming when the big herbivores were gone,” he concludes. Before that, mammoths and rhinos would have destroyed every area under cultivation. After their disappearance, the landscape became impoverished. Humans had to invent a substitute for their ecological function in order not to become extinct themselves. With the agriculture took over accordingly homo sapiens the role of the former grazers and nutrients for the soil - "in the sweat of his brow", as the biblical story puts it. Now the descendants of Adam and Eve mowed the grass and kept the cattle that manure the pastures.

Not all colleagues share Bocheren's point of view. For many, the switch to agriculture is still a mystery - especially since the nutritional situation of the people has temporarily deteriorated due to the transition from hunting meat to arable grain eater. Bocherens, however, suspects that man instinctively imitated the recipe for natural fertility by farming: the increase in productivity through large grass-eaters.

He estimates that today the weight of all people, including the cattle, horses, goats and sheep they keep, corresponds to that of the former herds of mammoths, reindeer, bison and wild horses. "The biomass of the early megaherbivores was replaced by the biomass of the cattle," says the paleo researcher.

Seen in this way, the Ice Age was not only different from what we had previously thought. It hasn't even passed. Not even in our soul. Dozens of psychological studies have shown time and again that people around the world consider a very specific type of landscape to be particularly beautiful: the vast, animal-rich savannah that we look at through the eyes of a Neanderthal grandson. Those that our fictional Ice Age ancestor Lena also saw and found just as beautiful because it was her home. Those that fascinate the museum director Rosendahl so much that he invites visitors to take a trip there.

It is the landscape that awakened in Klaus Reis head when he was stunned with happiness and discovered new Ice Age remains of a rhinoceros, an antelope or a mammoth in the Rhine Valley.

(NG, issue 4/2016, page (s) 38 to 65)