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7 Prehistoric Animals That Lived Alongside Humans

Read on to learn about seven awesome prehistoric animals that lived alongside humans.

Read on to learn about seven awesome prehistoric animals that lived alongside humans.

Once upon a time, sheets of ice covered the world, and humanity walked alongside giants.

Some of these creatures were predators, prowling the night while prehistoric humans gathered around warm campfires for safety. Others were not hunters but were hunted, providing humans with a source of food, clothing and tools.

This article provides an overview of 7 prehistoric animals that lived alongside humans.

7 Amazing Prehistoric Animals

  1. Sabretooth Cat
  2. Dire Wolf
  3. Giant Beaver
  4. Wooly Mammoths
  5. Giant Sloth
  6. Marsupial Lion
  7. Wooly Rhinoceros

1. Sabretooth Cat

When: Eocene through the Pleistocene epoch (56 million to 11,700 years ago)
Where: North America and Europe, later spreading to Asia, Africa and South America
Scientific name: Smilodon Fatalis (deadly knife tooth)

The iconic prehistoric predator had early humans cowering in their caves. It is often referred to as the sabretooth tiger, which isn't accurate as it has no relationship to tigers of today.

Its upper canine teeth were 20cm long, and its muscular build allowed it to effectively leap onto prey, leading experts to believe it was an ambush predator.

The best-preserved collection of sabretooth fossils was found in the La Brea tar pits in California. The tar pits are a rich source of fossils because so many animals got trapped in the tar, and the asphalt preserved their remains.

After roaming the snow-laden plains for thousands of years, the sabretooth cat went extinct just a century after the end of the ice age.

A dire wolf and a sabretooth cat fight over a mammoth carcass.

A dire wolf and a sabretooth cat fight over a mammoth carcass.

2. Dire Wolf

When: Pleistocene epoch (2.6 million to 11,700 years ago)
Where: North America
Scientific name: Aenocyon Dirus (terrible wolf)

Famously featured in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire and its HBO adaptation Game of Thrones, the dire wolf is not a fantasy creation but a real prehistoric predator that roamed North America during the ice age.

It was the largest ever ancestral canine and a close relative of the grey wolf, from which all modern dogs are descended.

Fossils have been discovered in the La Brea tar pits along with those of the sabretooth cat, proving that the two apex predators lived side-by-side. How often they came into conflict, and which one was more likely to emerge victorious, remains uncertain.

3. Giant Beaver

When: 3 million to 10,000 years ago
Where: North America
Scientific name: Castoroides Ohioensis

The largest rodent ever to inhabit North America, the giant beaver was the size of a black bear.

It was big enough to eat humans but appears to have preferred feeding on aquatic plants. It generally stuck to the shores of lakes or ponds.

Fossilised remains have as yet provided no evidence that prehistoric humans hunted these beavers, which nonetheless went extinct soon after the end of the ice age.

The giant beaver co-existed with its smaller relatives, but the former went extinct while the latter survived. The modern beaver, despite (or maybe even because) of its smaller size, was able to adapt to the warming environment due to its ability to burrow or bite its way through obstacles to reach vegetation.

4. Wooly Mammoth

When: Pleistocene epoch (26 million to 11,700 years ago)
Where: Every continent except Australia and South America
Scientific name: Elephantid genus Mammuthus

An iconic denizen of the ice age that not only captures the imagination of modern humans but of our prehistoric ancestors as well, judging by how often they feature in cave art dating back to the period.

Preserved remains have been discovered in the frozen wastes of Siberia, and the oldest sample of mammoth DNA is the oldest DNA we have of any animal that ever roamed the planet.

Mammoths were regular victims of human hunters who valued them not only for meat but for their hide, which was used to make shelters. This, combined with climate change, contributed to their extinction, as the arctic vegetation they fed on melted with the ice.

It's believed a small group of mammoths may have survived on Wrangel Island near Russia until as late as 4,700 years ago.

5. Giant Sloth

When: Pleistocene epoch (2.5 million to 11,700 years ago)
Where: South America
Scientific name: Megatherium Americanum ("great beast from America")

We know sloths as slow, lumbering creatures. Now imagine one ten times the size and weighed as much as a bull elephant.

In fact, the prehistoric sloth didn't even climb trees and remained firmly fixed on the ground. Sloth footprints dating back 14,000 years have been discovered in Argentina.

Chemical analysis of sloth fossils shows that they ate plant matter, but cut marks on the skulls indicate that they were hunted by humans, perhaps to extinction.

6. Marsupial Lion

When: Pleistocene epoch (2.6 million to 11,700 years ago)
Where: Australia
Scientific name: Thylacoleo Carnifex (pouch lion)

The marsupial lion was the largest carnivorous mammal to ever roam Australia, a land mass famous for being inhabited by creatures that kill people. Its large cheek teeth were apt for shredding prey, and its agility enabled it to both run and climb, made it extremely difficult to escape.

English biologist Sir Richard Owen described it as "one of the fellest and most destructive of predatory beasts". It could bite like a lion and climb like a koala, and it preyed on wombats and kangaroos. The first complete skeleton was found in a cave in 2002 and was the size of a large pig.

Like other marsupials, it carried its young in a pouch, as difficult as it is to imagine a lion-like creature doing that.

As with many other Australian mammals, it went extinct shortly after humans first occupied the continent (believed to have occurred around 65,000 years ago via the islands to the north).

7. Wooly Rhinoceros

When: Pliocene and Pleistocene epochs (5.3 million to 11,700 years ago)
Where: Asia and Europe
Scientific name: Coelodonta Antiquitatis

Yet another majestic beast that featured prominently in the cave art of prehistoric humans; the oldest known specimen was found on the Plateau of Tibet in 2007 and dated to 3.6 million years ago.

Its closest relative is the endangered Sumatran Rhino, which shares 99% of its DNA.

Like many of the animals featured here, it went extinct due to a combination of human activity and climate. The snow became deeper due to precipitation, which made it difficult for the rhinos to reach the grass. Yet another example of the devastating impact of climate change.


General information.

General information. National Geographic.

Plint, Tessa. PhD. 2019, June 2. Why giant human-sized beavers died out 10,000 years ago. PBS

Brewer, Pip. 2018, 22 November. What was Megatherium? Natural History Museum UK.

Musser, Anne. 2022, April 21. Thylacoleo carnifex. Australian Museum.

Klein, Alice. 2018, December 12. Australia's 'marsupial lion' was a meat-ripping, tree-climbing terror. NewScientist

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.