Site was a place of religious sacrifices by ancient man up to 60,000 years ago, believe experts.
'We found about 500 bones and fragments of bones of the giant cave lion, and there can be more'. Picture: Pavel Kosintsev
The find was made in Imanai cave, in the Russian republic of Bashkiria, and it is causing excitement among Russian archeologists. In the excavation of a small area deep inside the cave, scientists discovered some 500 bones of giant cave lions - a unique discovery anywhere in the world.
They also found a cave bear skull pierced with an ancient spear. Weapons were also found - but no signs that pre-historic people lived in the cave.
Senior researcher Pavel Kosintsev, of the regional Institute of Plant and Animal Ecology, Urals Branch of the Russian Academy of Science, said: 'We found about 500 bones and fragments of bones of the giant cave lion. But there could be more, after we finish with sorting the collection.
'Such a large quantity of giant cave lion bones at one site is really unique, the only one in the world so far discovered.'
Imanai Cave, Republic of Bashkiria, Russia. Picture: Pavel Kosintsev
The experts believe they have found the remains of five or six of the extinct giant cave lions.
'Surprisingly, the bones were found in the depths of the cave, about 100 metres from the entrance,' he said. 'Usually lions did not go so deep into the cave, it is not typical for them'.
Previously archeologists have found isolated remains deep inside the caves, but these are believed to have been 'sick or injured lions, or lost cubs'. Mr Kosintsev believes the cave was 'an ancient sanctuary - and those lions could have been brought to the cave by ancient people'.
In other words, the cave had a religious significance to ancient man.
'Such cave sanctuaries were already found in the Czech Republic and Austria, which means we have some examples to compare.'
He said: 'There are other findings that can indicate it was a sanctuary. We also found the skull of a cave bear pierced with the spear, yet there were no evidence that ancient people hunted cave bears, at least not in the Urals.'
The cave had a religious significance to ancient men. Pictures: Pavel Kosintsev
The researchers also uncovered ten Mousterian stone spearheads. Previously only two had been located in the entire Urals region of Russia.
'The spearheads are the only sign of human activity - and it is also quite strange,' Mr Kosintsev said. 'If ancient people lived in this cave, they should have left the traces of making the spearheads, and bones of the animals which people ate. Here we see only the spearheads and it is further evidence in favour of the sanctuary hypothesis. People did not live here, they used this place for some other purposes, most likely, as a sanctuary.'
The latest finds have not been dated, but material collected in upper layers of the cave floor during a reconnaissance of the cave is around 30,000 years old.
The scientists remain optimistic of a treasure trove of future discoveries inside a cave that was first identified as a site of ancient man by hunters who noticed bones at the site. 'The recent findings, from the lower layers, can be older, up to 60,000 years ago. If we will get older data, it could be the world's most ancient sanctuary of this type. But of course we must wait for the exact data'.
The dating will be undertaken by Herzen State Pedagogical University in Saint Petersburg.
'We plan to continue the excavations next year, but the amount of finds we made this year is very large. There are about 20 sacks with ground and small fragments, and about 20 to 25 boxes with bones. We need to examine all this and I think that some significant updates may appear as soon as this year.'
An artist impression of what cave lions looked liked, and bones found inside Imanai Cave. Pictures: Pavel Kosintsev
The finds were made in an area of six metres by six metres, to a depth of 60 cm, and it is hoped many more discoveries are waiting to be made.
The Mousterian period was a Stone Age era that lasted from about half a million to tens of thousands of years ago.
The weapons represent a 'very large collection', said scientist Dmitry Gimranov, who headed the excavation.
The giant cave lions found in the cave were 'at the peak of their ability'. This type of lion because extinct around 13,000 years ago. They were 25% bigger than today's African and had longer legs to chase their prey.
Ceremonial suit was embellished with decorations and left as a sacrifice for the gods by ancient bear cult polar people, say archeologists.
Unique crouched burials for this period - comprising seriously ill quartet - presents archeologists with a puzzle.
Intriguing finds from archeological excavations in old garrison town of Tara, a key historic staging post to the east.
Threat to Salekhard and Anadyr could come even sooner - by the mid-2020s - as thaw of frozen ground is forecast to have 'devastating' impact.
Likely from the Okunev culture, might this mysterious ancient figurine with the angry face be a children's 'rattle', to ward off evil spirits?