Late Pleistocene Giant Short-Faced Bears, Mammoths, and Large Carcass Scavenging in the Saltville Valley of Virginia, USA

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The Saltville Valley of southwestern Virginia contains an abundance of extinct Late Pleistocene megafauna. Recent excavations in the valley produced two particularly notable discoveries, the remains of a scavenged mammoth (Mammuthus sp.) and a giant short-faced bear (Arctodus simus). The bear is the first carnivoran record from Saltville, and its large dental dimensions, dentary proportions, and exceptionally short-face, evince an exceedingly powerful bite for this individual. Mammoth remains are relatively abundant from Saltville, but the material described here preserves extreme examples of scavenging by carnivores. Based on comparisons with the feeding behavior and bone alteration patterns of extant hyenas, cats, wolves, and bears, we conclude that at least two types of large carnivorans scavenged this mammoth carcass. AMS radiocarbon dates of 14 510±55 14C yr BP on the Mammuthus and 14 853±55 14C yr BP on the A. simus demonstrate that they are nearly the same age. Very few direct radiocarbon dates on A. simus have been reported from the contiguous United States. The Saltville A. simus represents the most eastern date for the species, as well as the only date from the Appalachian Highlands.