Humans played a much bigger role than previously thought in driving the cave bear to extinction, according to new evidence revealed last week.
The enormous bears, which typically lived in Asia and Europe, were driven from caves by human hunters thousands of years ago and put on the road to extinction, the researchers found.
"We see this dramatic drop in the population of the cave bear starting from 40,000 years ago, which coincides with the arrival of anatomically modern humans in Europe," University of Zurich Professor Verena Schuenemann, who led the study, told BBC News.
In order to complete their work, the scientists analyzed mitochondrial DNA extracted from cave bear bones that were collected across several European countries.
The bears, which completely died out about 24,000 years ago, also faced shrinking food resources and the start of the last Ice Age.
"It is the clearest evidence we have so far that humans might have played a big role in the extinction of the cave bear," Schuenemann added.
Despite the findings, the debate over what exactly led to the cave bear's extinction – human activity, the changing environment or some combination of both – will continue.
The study was published in Scientific Reports.