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Keywords:

  • communal den site;
  • palaeobiology;
  • population;
  • skeletal remains;
  • skull dimorphism and shape types;
  • Upper Pleistocene

The remains of a large population of Late Pleistocene Ice Age spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta spelaea Goldfuss 1823) are described from the Rösenbeck Cave in the Sauerland Karst of Germany. They include four skulls and 79 other skeletal parts, mainly from adult to senile animals, making this an important Late Pleistocene hyena cave-den site in Europe. The skulls have been compared with 30 other hyena skull specimens from open air and cave-den sites in central Europe (Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and Romania) in order to achieve an understanding of sexual dimorphism in the crania of Ice Age spotted hyenas from the Upper Pleistocene cold period (Weichselian/Wuermian), and the types of injuries that they acquired during their lifetimes. Three different types of cranial shape have been distinguished, one of which appears to have been a consequence of pathologies that developed in response to injuries caused by bites received during the animal's lifetime, as a result of either intraspecies fights or fights with lions. Although cave bears penetrated to great depths within the Rösenbeck Cave for hibernation purposes, hyenas appear to have utilized only a short section of the cave that branched off directly from the entrance area. Hyena cub material is scarce, suggesting that this area was used as a communal den rather than for cub rearing. Bones exhibiting gnaw marks, representing prey imported by hyenas, are also rare but include horse (Equus caballus przewalskii) and reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) remains. The scarcity of bones from hyena prey suggests that this cave was not used as a food storage site. Some Ursus spelaeus cave bear remains, including skulls, show evidence of having been gnawed, chewed and cracked by hyenas, indicating that the hyenas periodically fed on cave bear carcasses in a specialization response to the mammoth steppe megafauna absence of the boreal mountain forest regions. © 2011 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2011, 103, 191–220.