Researchers know from archaeological records that the brown bear used to live in Britain, but at some point in the last 10,000 years it died out. Professor Hannah O'Regan and Dr Thibaut Deviese aim to find out when it became extinct through radiocarbon dating 22 bear specimens from across England, Scotland and Wales.
The samples all date to the Holocene (the period from the end of the last Ice Age to the present), and almost all are from cave and fen sites. These are the ‘wild’ places that haven’t been studied, as there is often limited or no archaeology present. With a grant from the NERC/AHRC Radiocarbon Facility, they will be examining these ‘wild’ animals to determine when they lived (and died out) in each area.
They may see a pattern of bears disappearing as farming spread in the Neolithic, or they may find that they survived alongside humans for some time. At the moment, they really don’t know, and that’s what makes this project so exciting!
Once they have the dates, they can compare them with the sites and artefacts in each region, and see if there were any changes in how people related to bears when they were present, and after they had become extinct.
For an overview of the current state of knowledge of brown bears in Britain see O’Regan (2018).