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Cave in Saudi Arabia reveals hundreds of thousands of animal, human bones

Researchers have discovered hundreds of thousands of animal and human remains in a cave in northwestern Saudi Arabia, believed to have been gathered by striped hyenas over the past 7,000 years. Located in the Kingdom’s Harrat Khaybar lava field is the 1.5-kilometer Umm Jirsan lava tube, a tunnel that contains ‘beautifully preserved’ remains.

In addition to cattle bones, caprids, horses, camels, rodents and even human bones were discovered. Scientist Stewie Stewart tweeted that the accumulation of the bones over thousands of years provides ‘excellent conditions for bone preservation’. The Umm Jirsan site offers a promising new resource for a region with very little bone preservation, he noted.

Using the types, frequencies and locations of bones, scientists concluded that the remains were gathered by striped hyenas. ‘These animals are avid collectors of bones that they transport back to dens to be consumed, fed to young or cached,’ Stewart said.

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Despite the study’s focus on hyenas, the scientists concluded in their published article that ‘donkeys have been important livestock in the region for centuries’. ‘The Umm Jirsan site (and other similar sites in the region) may contain valuable information about the ecology and environment of Holocene Arabia. We are just scratching the surface,’ Stewart noted.


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