London: Scientists have found tooth-marks on a 500,000-year-old hominin bone which indicate that large carnivores, likely hyenas, may have consumed early humans.
During the Middle Pleistocene, early humans likely competed for space and resources with large carnivores, who occupied many of the same areas, researchers said.
However, to date, little evidence for direct interaction between them in this period has been found.
The researchers from the National Museum of Natural History (MNHN) in France examined the shaft of a femur from the skeleton of a 500,000-year-old hominin, found in "Grotte a Hominides" cave near Morocco.
The examination of the bone fragment showed various fractures and tooth marks indicative of carnivore chewing, including tooth pits as well as other scores and notches.
These were clustered at the two ends of the femur, the softer parts of the bone being completely crushed. The marks were covered with sediment, suggesting that they were very old.
While the appearance of the marks indicated that they were most likely made by hyenas shortly after death, it was not possible to conclude whether the bone had been eaten as a result of predation on the hominin or had been scavenged soon after death.
Nonetheless, this is the first evidence that humans were a resource for carnivores during the Middle Pleistocene in this part of Morocco, and contrasts with evidence from nearby sites that humans themselves hunted and ate carnivores.
The researchers suggest that depending on circumstances, hominins at this time could have both acted as hunter or scavenger, and been targeted as carrion or prey.
"Although encounters and confrontations between archaic humans and large predators of this time period in North Africa must have been common, the discovery is one of the few examples where hominin consumption by carnivores is proven," said Camille Daujeard, from MNHN.
The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE....