The type specimen of Ursus priscus GOLDFUSS, 1818 and the uncertain status of Late Pleistocene brown bears

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From the beginning of the first scientific explorations of caves, the Zoolithenhöhle in Franconia, Germany, was famous for its rich fossil content. In addition to the numerous remains of cave bears and other animals, a skull of a clearly distinct kind of bear was found, originally called Ursus priscus GOLDFUSS, 1818. Three years later, the term Ursus fossilis was introduced along with a published description of the skull, which led to confusion about the adequate designation of the new species. U. priscus was regarded as a contemporary of the cave bear, i.e. Late Pleistocene in age, but the geological age of the find is still unclear even today, and from the overall state of preservation it could be even of Holocene age. Unfortunately, it was not possible to get the permission for dating the skull directly. In this paper a revised study of the skull demonstrates that it is identical to modern U. arctos. The specimen probably represents a female individual. On the basis of this evidence, U. priscus, U. fossilis and its synonyms are invalid terms. The nature of Late Pleistocene brown bears is still not well known.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: September 1, 2007

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