A new study on panda fossils revealed that these large, gentle creatures were a part of the prehistoric man's diet.

While the creatures are now revered and protected, a Chinese scientist Wei Guangbiao says that the Giant Pandas were just another source of food to primitive man.

Wei, who is head of the Institute of Three Gorges Paleoanthropology at a Chongqing museum and co-author of the award-winning book "Origins of Giant Pandas," said that many uncovered panda fossils shows that the animals died from injuries caused by hunters.

After examining the excavated panda fossils in the southwest Chinese city of Chongqing, Wei claims that these endangered creatures were once "slashed to death by man," according to Xinhua, the state-run Chinese news agency.

Wei told Xinhua that prehistoric man would not have killed animals that were useful to them in the daily battle of survival. He said that pandas, which were once plentiful in numbers, may have been a ready source of food and a good complement to their diet that comprised mostly of berries and anything else they could catch.

Researchers said that given the panda's shy nature and the slow, clumsy walk of the docile creature makes it an easy prey for hunters armed with sticks and stones, and later spears and knives.

The distinguishing black and white fur of the bear would also have been used by early humans to provide warmth. Researchers say pandas that lived 10,000 to one million years ago were significantly smaller than those seen in captivity or in the wild today.

Pandas living during that time would have been found in the high mountains of Chongqing, where they flourished in their natural habitat of cool, damp and cloudy mountain forest land thriving with bamboo, which makes up most of the bear's diet.

However, panda meat wasn't only for the primitive man, and according to historian, the bear, which is now a protected "National Treasure" in China may have also been a delicacy eaten by the country's ancient rulers.

Giant Pandas are scarcer now, and the animals have been on the endangered species list for more than half a century. There are now breeding centers charged with helping to boost the dwindling population. Researchers say that there are now 239 pandas living in captivity and estimate that there are fewer than 3,000 of them living in the wild.