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Ravens & Us

Here’s your science word for the day.




A synanthrope is an organism that lives near and benefits from humans and their environmental modifications (Wikipedia).

Not your pets, however.

We are talking wildlife.

This is a story about evolution. And ravens.

It was long assumed that early human foragers lived within an untouched natural environment, says Dr. Chris Baumann, who conducts research at the Universities of Tübingen and Helsinki.

However, “We now know that human behavior impacted and changed ecosystems at least 30,000 years ago and that this had important effects for other organisms,” he adds.

The research by Baumann and others is demonstrating that wild animals entered into diverse relationships with 30,000 years ago—long before the first settlements were established in the Neolithic period around 10,000 years ago.

The key synanthrope?

The raven.

The work of researchers from the Universities of Tübingen, Helsinki and Aarhus presents new evidence that ravens helped themselves to scraps and picked over mammoth carcasses left by human hunters during the Pavlovian culture, based on three archaeological sites in the Czech Republic.

Not only did the ravens benefit from what the humans ate, but a large number of raven bones suggests that the birds were a source of food to early humans. Food—and feathers, perhaps. In the words of the study, the ravens were “carcass provisioning.”

The study was published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution. In an earlier study, published in Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, Chris Baumann described a general framework for the study showing that animal-human coexistence goes back deep into the Pleistocene.

How did the researchers figure out that the ravens were dieting on mammoth? By analyzing the nitrogen, carbon and sulfur stable isotope compositions in the bones, of course.

“The researchers propose that raven behavior was synanthropic, which means that the birds benefited from a shared ecosystem with human hunter-gatherers,” said a news release from

The University of Tübingen and the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution.

Yes, synanthropic.

Speaking of ravens (and how smart they are) this all reminds us of one of the coolest videos you’ll ever see—a raven figuring out a very complex puzzle. Enjoy!






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