As early as the mid-19th century, bones from cave bears, chamoises, and ibexes were documented in the Wildkirchli. The first systematic excavation led by Emil Baechler was thus also concerned with searching for cave bear bones.
Individual animal bones behave differently with regard to sedimentary pressure and moisture. Ribs, shoulder blades, and hip bones are seldom found fully preserved. Toe, finger and wrist bones are often well preserved, in addition to kneecaps and oft-discovered teeth.
In the Wildkirchli cave, bones from around 600 to 800 cave bears have been found, from a period of around 100, 000 years ago.
In a vastly smaller number, but as such all the more surprisingly, bones from the cave lion, leopard, and cave hyena have also been discovered. This means that bones from a cave lion are still lying in the earth.
|Body length||200 – 300 cm (6.5-10 ft)|
|Shoulder height||100 – 150 cm (3-5 ft)|
|Weight||600 – 1000 kg (1300-2200 lb)|
|Life expectancy||35 years|
The massive cave bear is an extinct relative of the brown bear and a good 30 percent larger. Its most striking feature was a high brow, which was linked to its powerful jaw muscles.
It was herbivorous and had widely spread back teeth, with which it could chew its hard, fiber-dense diet. As it had no natural predators, a single animal could live up to 35 years.
Despite the plentiful accumulation of bones and teeth in caves, cave bears did not live inside them. The animals only stayed there during their winter hibernation, and so the occasional death of a weakened or old animal over the course of ten thousand years led to the large collection of bones and teeth.
Why the cave bear went extinct around 25, 000 years ago is not entirely clear. Perhaps climate change was to blame?
Despite the cave bear being a good thirty percent bigger than the brown bear, they still had the same “shoe size.”
This surely had something to do with the economy of heat in the Ice Age: The extent to which an animal is able to generate heat is dependent on the volume of its body. Since an increase in body size results in the volume increasing more quickly than the surface area; thus, large bodies cool down more slowly. The extremities have to be small however, to avoid heat loss.
|Body length||140-230 cm (4.5-7.5 ft)|
|Shoulder height||90-150 cm (3-5 ft)|
|Weight||140-400 kg (300-880 lb)|
|Life expectancy||20 years|
|Diet Carnivore||Lifestyle Pack|
The cave lion was a contemporary of the cave bear. It was around 25 percent larger than modern African lions. In all known cave paintings, the cave lion is also portrayed without a mane.
Despite its name, the cave lion did not live in caves. These were only visited by sick, old, or weakened animals. Complete lion corpses were also dragged into caves by cave hyenas.
|Body length||92–190 cm (3-6 ft)|
|Shoulder height||70–80 cm (2-2.5 ft)|
|Weight||30–90 kg (65-200 lb)|
|Life expectancy||15 years|
Very few leopard bones have been discovered in Switzerland. The leopard from that era corresponded to the modern type and, apart from mating season, it was also a solitary animal. Today leopards primarily live in Africa and the southern part of Eurasia.
In warmer phases of the last ice age, they also hunted on the Ebenalp.
|Body length||120-180 cm (4-6 ft)|
|Shoulder height||80-90 cm (2.5-3 ft)|
|Weight||60-70 kg (130-155 lb)|
|Life expectancy||25 years|
Even cave hyenas were not true cave inhabitants, seeking these out only as a place of refuge. Findings show that cave hyenas would sometimes steal the remains of human prey and were natural enemies of cave lions.