Samstag, 15. August 2009

Introducing the cave bear

On October 22 of the year 1794 a young German medicine student submitted his “dissertatio” to the philosophical faculty of the University Leipzig. In this work, the 23 year old Johann Christian Rosenmüller described a well preserved skull of a bear discovered in a cave near the village of Burggaillenreuth in the Franconian Alb (Central Germany). Caves and fossil bones are widespread in this region, already in 1774 the german priest Johann Friedrich Esper (1732 – 1781) , recognising that the bones do not belong to a brown bear, claims – missing other material to compare - that they represent remains of a polar bear. In the following years other authors agree that the fossils can not attributed to known bear species, but only Rosenmüller describe this “unknown creature” as a new species – and because of the rich discoveries in caves – he names it “cave bear” Ursus spelaeus ROSENMÜLLER 1794.

The illustration of the holotype - skull for the species Ursus spelaeus in the work of ROSENMÜLLER 1795 from the “Zoolithenhöhle” near Burggaillenreuth (Franconian Alb). The specimen today is lost.

In 1795 Rosenmüller, after supplementary studies, publish a second description and confirmation for the new established species. He also rejects the contemporary speculati
ons about the genesis of the bone accumulations as result of a flood catastrophe, and propose simply a slow, but consistent accumulation and deposition trough animals dying by natural causes inside the caves:

„Wir können das Dasein einer solchen Menge fossiler Knochen nicht leichter erklären, als wenn wir annehmen … daß die Tiere, von denen sie sind, in denen Höhlen geleb
t, sich daselbst fortgepflanzt haben und drinnen größtenteils gestorben sind” (We can easily explain the existence of such a quantity of fossil bones, as if we assume that the animals, from which they come, have lived in those caves, have reproduced in them and have finally also died inside them).

250 years later the Cave bear is one of the best studied mammals of the ice age, and among others one of the best known by a broader audience. This results surely by the large number of bones found of this animal, and also the location of the remains in caves, where it maybe influenced the legends of “cave occuping dragons”.

Arnold Böcklin (1827 - 1901).


ROSENMÜLLER, J.C. (1794): Quaedam de ossibus fossilibus animalis cuiusdam, historiam eius et cognitionem accuratiorem illustrantia, dissertation, quam 22. Octob. 1794 ad disputandum proposuit Ioannes Christ. Rosenmüller Heßberg-Francus, LL.AA.M. in Theatro anatomico Lipsiensi Prosector assumto socio Io. Chr. Aug. Heinroth Lips. Med. Stud. Cum tabula aenea. O.V. Leipzig
ROSENMÜLLER, J.C. (1795): Beiträge zur Geschichte und näheren Kenntniß fossiler Knochen. Georg Emil Beer. Leipzig

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