How did prehistoric animals communicate? What did their cries sound like?

From October 14, 2020 to May 16, 2021

Exhibition at the Museum of Prehistory
Great site of France of Solutré-Pouilly-Vergisson

Thanks to a work of reconstitution of vocalizations, David Reby, teacher-researcher at the UJM and researcher in ethology at the ENES / CRNL has restored the voice to three species of extinct animals: the megaceros, the woolly rhino and the cave bear. Inspired by the researcher's work on animal voice communication, these reconstructions will allow the general public to hear these animals that have been extinct for millennia in an exhibition at the Musée de Préhistoire de Solutré until May 16, 2021.

Reconstructions of the cries of three extinct animal species

To reconstruct the vocalizations of the Megaceros, a prehistoric deer of very impressive size, David Reby has chosen to modify deer calls, whose appearance and biology are similar to those of the Megaceros (in both species the antlers are webbed and the males are larger than the females (strong sexual dimorphism). Since the Megaceros is much larger than the fallow deer, the researcher lowered the timbre and pitch of the voice by 30%, simulating a disproportionate neck, and long and thick vocal cords, characteristic of species with strong sexual dimorphism, in which the vocal cords lengthen and thicken under the effect of testosterone. In addition, the duration of the cry was lengthened because the animal's greater lung capacity would have enabled it to maintain its cry over a longer period of time.

To simulate the cave bear, the researcher recorded the sounds of a female grizzly bear, named Julia, in Orleans bear trainers approved by the French Association for the Protection of Working Animals. The size of the cave bear being comparable to that of grizzly bears, the frequencies of the cry were not modified. The recording was cleaned to suppress parasitic noise, then broadcast and re-recorded in the Limousis Cave (Aude), in the "salle des colonnes", whose acoustics were perfect, and whose walls bear traces of cave bear claws, at least 16,000 years old. David Reby chose to slightly saturate the recording in order to increase the apparent aggressiveness of the animal, which can be imagined at the entrance of his cave to defend its territory.

Finally, for the woolly rhinoceros, David Reby worked from a recording of rhinos, which he lowered the frequencies and duration to imitate a slightly larger animal, before mixing it with a background sound recorded in Scotland.

Although it is impossible to reconstitute the cries of the extinct animals identically - the vocalizations leave no traces - these methods informed by our scientific knowledge allow us to recreate simulations that are as realistic as possible.


ENES/CRNL: Lyon Neuroscience Research Center (UJM/CNRS/INSERM/Lyon 1)
Exhibition at the Museum of Prehistory
Great site of France of Solutré-Pouilly-Vergisson