Animals and humans have coexisted since our early ancestors first emerged nearly 2 million years ago. Researchers have found artifacts from this time period, such as stone tools in the archaeological site Kanjera South in Kenya, showing the first tangible proof of ancient humans interacting with and hunting animals.
This symbiotic relationship between humans and animals hardly comes as a surprise when domesticated pets like dogs and cats are commonplace in the modern world. However, the animals that lived alongside ancient humans were less cute and cuddly and more fierce and deadly. As humans evolved, they learned to protect themselves by hunting many of these animals that once coexisted with them.
What Animals Walked With Ancient Humans?
Here’s a peek at some of the animals that walked alongside ancient humans and how these animals, which once ruled the world, slowly became hunted and turned into food, tools, clothing, and even art.
1. Woolly Mammoths
One of the most iconic animals of the Great Ice Age was the woolly mammoth, who roamed the chilly tundras throughout Europe, Asia, and the Americas millions of years ago.
How Big Was the Woolly Mammoth?
This hairy elephant-like creature weighed up to 13,000 pounds and stood between 10 and 12 feet tall on average. Their dark brown overcoats and two nearly 14-foot-long tusks may have made these creatures look menacing; however, they were hardly a threat, as they were herbivores who largely feasted on grasses and herbs.
How Were Woolly Mammoths Hunted?
So, how did ancient humans coexist with this rather large creature? Recent evidence of mammoth bones distributed in two trap pits in Mexico gives us a clue into how human hunters took woolly mammoths down.
Humans may have used these traps to separate mammoths from their herds, leaving them as easy prey. Additionally, large groups of human hunters utilized stone tools, branches, and even torches to capture and kill these animals. These massive creatures were an ideal food source, and early humans used mammoth bones for tools, jewelry, and art.
When Did the Woolly Mammoth Go Extinct?
Recent research revealed that woolly mammoths likely survived in North America until around 5,000 years ago. Though their population largely declined over 10,000 years ago due to melting icebergs and climate change. This, combined with human hunting, eventually caused these majestic animals to become extinct.
Read More: Will Woolly Mammoths Ever Make a Comeback?
2. Komodo Dragon
(Credit: Anna Kucherova/Shutterstock)
The largest lizard in the world hardly looks like a lizard, hence its mystical name.
How Big Is a Komodo Dragon?
With their adult bodies reaching nearly 10 feet in length and weighing up to 300 pounds, these giant reptiles have shared the earth with humans for over a million years.
Where Are Komodo Dragons From?
The ancestors of the Komodo dragons first appeared in Australia. They then slowly dispersed to the islands of Komodo and Flores in Indonesia, according to fossil findings published in a study by The Australian National University.
Humans and Komodo dragons shared their habitat in Australia during the Great Ice Age, around 900,000 years ago. While humans were known to hunt various lizards, it remains unclear if they could conquer the Komodo dragon, who could have just as easily overpowered ancient humans.
What Do Komodo Dragons Eat?
It is known that Komodo dragons love to feast on meat, which means that they could have had a mutually beneficial relationship with ancient humans. Komodo dragons may have eaten the remains of an animal that humans hunted, and humans may have used the skin and bones from the Komodo dragon’s prey for tools.
Do Komodo Dragons Still Exist?
While Komodo dragons still live today, researchers have put the lizard on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List as a threatened species. Their current endangered state comes largely due to illegal hunting and habitat loss.
Along with woolly mammoths and giant sloths, ancient humans also lived among herbivorous armadillo-like animals called glyptodonts. Fossils of glyptodonts pinpoint them to the swamps of North and South America as far back as 5 million years ago.
How Big Were Glyptodonts?
Like other creatures on this list, glyptodonts were rather massive, with their bodies exceeding 4,000 pounds and 10 feet long. The glyptodont also had a tortoise-like shell, helping to shield its entire body against predators. Yet, despite their tough exterior, these peaceful creatures weren’t to be feared by their human companions in the Americas.
When Did Glyptodonts Go Extinct?
The thick armor of the glyptodonts made it rather useful to our ancient ancestors. Because it was likely that glyptodonts didn’t fight back, they were easy for our human ancestors to kill. Skulls of this giant armadillo found in Northern Venezuela indicate that it may have suffered multiple blows to its head by ancient human hunters armed with tools like rocks and spears. While giant glyptodonts were driven to extinction, their modern-day armadillo relatives continue to live on.
4. Saber-toothed Cats
The saber-toothed cat evolved from a prehistoric family of carnivorous predators over 50 million years ago. It’s easy to see why this sharp-toothed cat who survived on a meat-only diet was a huge threat to our early ancestors.
How Big Was a Saber Tooth Tiger?
Weighing as much as 750 pounds and growing around 3 feet tall and 5.5 feet in length, the saber-toothed cat, while still huge, may seem smaller than massive ancient animals like the woolly mammoth.
However, their sharp teeth and impressive jaws could both hold down and slice through just about anything in their way, including the humans who occupied the same land as these predators around 300,000 years ago. Our ancient ancestors likely utilized spears and hunted these animals in groups to fight off these impressive predators.
When Did the Saber Tooth Tiger Go Extinct?
While ambush attacks on prey helped the deadly cat survive for years, they began to die out between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago. While the exact cause of their extinction remains a mystery, researchers have speculated that the saber-toothed cat went extinct due to both their large prey dying out towards the end of the Great Ice Age and competing with ancient humans for food.
5. Giant Sloth
(Credit: Aunt Spray/Shutterstock)
Yes, giant sloths are real, or at least they were.
When Did the Giant Sloth Live?
They lived between 1.8 million and 12,000 years ago, during the Pleistocene epoch. They originated in South America and then made their way to North America during the Great Ice Age.
How Big Was the Giant Sloth?
While the slow-moving creatures may not seem that terrifying, it is possible they put up a good fight against our ancient human ancestors with their giant claws and the fact that they stretched 10 feet long and weighed, on average, around 2,200 pounds.
Recent fossil evidence proves that ancient humans and sloths coexisted in South America. The fossils, between 16,000 and 27,000 years old, suggest that ancient humans living in South America were hunting giant sloths and utilizing their bones to make jewelry.
When Did the Giant Sloth Go Extinct?
In fact, humans may have been responsible for the sluggish animal’s ultimate extinction. According to a study examining the extinction of animals in South America during the Great Ice Age, human predation was likely a key factor in the decline of the slow-moving giant sloth. Unfortunately, these marvelous creatures became extinct over 10,000 years ago, primarily due to habitat loss and hunting.