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Are Humans to Blame for the Disappearance of Earth’s Fantastic Beasts?  RSS feed

 
duane hennon
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since it was going to end up here anyway.........

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/what-happened-worlds-most-enormous-animals-180964255/

Are Humans to Blame for the Disappearance of Earth’s Fantastic Beasts?
100,000 years ago, giant sloths, wombats and cave hyenas roamed the world. What drove them all extinct?

Turn the clock back 1.8 million years, and the world was full of fantastic beasts: In North America, lions, dire wolves and giant sloths prowled the land. South America boasted camel-like creatures and giant 4,500-pound bears. Eurasia had rhinoceroses and cave hyenas, while Australia teemed with giant wombats and 7-foot-tall flightless birds. Across all those continents and many islands were massive, long-nosed creatures that included the notorious woolly mammoths and mastodons.

Today we have less than half of the species known as megafauna—an exclusive club whose members weigh at least 97 pounds when fully grown—on all continents but Africa. Where did these giants all go? In the past 50 years, archaeologists have started to come to a damning conclusion: Perhaps they would still be here if humans hadn’t arrived on the scene.



now my question is:

if the early "native Americans" hunted the mammoth , giant ground sloths, dire wolves , 6 ft long beavers,  cave bears and sabre tooth tigers to extinction
why weren't the later "native Americans" able to hunt the bison, elk, mountain lions, wolves, and grizzlies to extinction?
it seems that those animals were increasing in numbers despite hunting
my point being that something is missing from the analysis to make make a claim one way or the other

 
Nicole Alderman
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Perhaps it was a mix of changing climate removing certain foods that those megafauna liked to eat so there was less food to sustain a large population that could recover from being hunted? Perhaps the megafauna's habitat was changed via changing climate, or maybe through the actions of humans directly influencing the plant life by burning to grow more camas or simply eating food that the megafauna would have eaten, or planting and tending certain foods so that the megafauna (or the megafauna's prey) had less to eat. Perhaps our current megafauna were better able to adapt, or thrived in slightly different conditions than the extinct megafauna.

These are just my current guesses. I would need to do a lot more research to see if any of them are even remotely true!

 
John Weiland
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duane hennon wrote:

if the early "native Americans" hunted the mammoth , giant ground sloths, dire wolves , 6 ft long beavers,  cave bears and sabre tooth tigers to extinction
why weren't the later "native Americans" able to hunt the bison, elk, mountain lions, wolves, and grizzlies to extinction?
it seems that those animals were increasing in numbers despite hunting



Accepting for the sake of argument the gross assumption that this particular megafauna extinction hypothesis is correct, one might conjecture that after the large "Oh, sh#*&@...." moment of witnessing (over time) that extinction a more balanced cosmology took hold with regard to the rate of resource utilization.  By analogy, with our own current rate of resource utilization, a (minimally?) second "Oh, Sh#*&@..." moment may be arriving soon, forcing the present stage of human development kicking and screaming and in full tantrum into the next level of ethical evolution.

 
duane hennon
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just another thought

before Columbus it is estimated there were 100 million(?) of native Americans living in North America
how many early native America (clovis) people were living here when the megafauna died out in  12,000 bc =/-
 
Nicole Alderman
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Accepting for the sake of argument the gross assumption that this particular megafauna extinction hypothesis is correct, one might conjecture that after the large "Oh, sh#*&@...." moment of witnessing (over time) that extinction a more balanced cosmology took hold with regard to the rate of resource utilization.  By analogy, with our own current rate of resource utilization, a (minimally?) second "Oh, Sh#*&@..." moment may be arriving soon, forcing the present stage of human development kicking and screaming and in full tantrum into the next level of ethical evolution. 


Oral histories are amazing, and I wouldn't be surprised if tribes had realized that they were hunting to extinction some prey, and chose to hunt differently with the remaining prey so that they would be around for future generations. I wonder if any of their oral histories or tales speak to this? I've only read some of the tales of the pacific northwest, and that was back in college some eleven years ago! Man, I feel old. But, I still have all my texts, and this really makes me want to go reread all of the tales I have with fresh eye! They are wonderfully told and a pleasure to read, too.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I go with archaeology. Oral histories get pretty muddled up after one or two generations. Archaeology says that these animals are hunted extensively, and that the landscape was changing. There was warming, drying and some major volcanic events. Some huge ice dams also broke.

  Animals like the giant sloth, had excellent defenses against predators like wolves and bears. They had powerful forearms that contained daggers. Completely useless against a group of men who could stand back and kill the animal with projectiles, from a safe distance.

I used an atlatl when I was at a museum in the Yukon Territory. The girl brought them out and I turned to my young daughter and said "who is going to win this event?" She calmly said "you are dad." I sent my first dart, well beyond the shooting field and into the forest beyond, where the instructor said no one could throw to. Those things hit with force. I can see why they were used to bring down the largest land animals ever hunted by man, the Columbian mammoth.
 
Marcus Billings
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I've studied this question for quite some time.  Based on what I've learned, the answer is no.  There is actually a growing body of scientists that think a comet hit during the Younger-Dryas period  and the resulting climatic turmoil finished off the mega-fauna.  I think paleolithic hunters get a bad rap for the disappearance of the mega-fauna.  The main problem with the "humans killed the animals" therory is the fact that the humans didn't put a dent into the mega-fauna prior to that time period (12,000 years ago, give or take), and the die off was world wide.  It even occurred where humans were non-existent or were represented in  very low numbers.  Yes, the occasional bone is found with a flint point in it, but these finds are rare.  There are mammoth graveyards in Siberia that have thousand of animals and no trace of human predation.  Based on what I've seen, man had enough problems of his own and didn't overpopulate many areas during this time period.  But a comet hitting and sending up the equivalent of a nuclear winter might just be the ticket for mass extinction.  Granted, my opinion is only based on thirty books and dozens of white paper, but it makes sense to me. 
 
Dale Hodgins
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I just look at what humans have done everywhere in the world, where they come upon an amazing food source. People hunt those things.

When Polynesians swept across the ocean, they eliminated species on just about every Island. When later explorers discovered the dodo bird, they killed them all and turned them into bird jerky, for the trip home.

The largest birds in the world were extinct within approximately one thousand years of the Maori first reaching New Zealand.

Once humans developed the technology to hunt the largest whales, the hunt was on, and only legal restrictions prevented extinction.

Buffalo Bill didn't single-handedly eliminate the bison from much of its original territory. That began with the arrival of the horse. Native Americans had hundreds of years, in which they were able to expand numbers and hunt on terrain that would have been very difficult and dangerous for men on foot. They no longer needed to wait for herds to collect near cliffs or other natural features. Riding those horses, they could hunt them on the open plains, and they could pursue them on their migrations, with greater efficiency.
 
Cody DeBaun
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Marcus could I bother you for some book titles from your research? I would be very curious as the evidence I've seen seems to suggest an anthropogenic cause for the American Megafauna extinction. PS Martin's work, particularly analyzing ice core/marine core samples and finding nothing too crazy coinciding with that timeframe, is my main source on the topic, but if there's more to consider I would be very interested.

This is a great overview of the topic (though a few years old now) that also makes some interesting claims on the relationship of herbivorous megafauna and grassland fire in North America.

One answer to that question Duane might be that, as others have suggested, civilization changed. Nomadic mammoth hunters became foragers became farmers, and while you could say that bison and elk were hunted, it was probably much closer to what we call ranching than it was to what we call hunting. Mann's book on this topic is really fantastic, he argues that Native Americans became the keystone species for basically the entirety of the Americas.
 
John Weiland
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Dale Hodgins wrote:I just look at what humans have done everywhere in the world, where they come upon an amazing food source.


I don't doubt that this would apply under *most* circumstances.  But one could also imagine a change in sentiment on a localized population scale if that population adopted a new ethic on account of seeing what was lost.  You could change "amazing food source" to "amazing fertile soil"....which quickly, under an exploitative ethic, would be tilled and essentially "mined" for the nutrients present by the 'agriculture' of that population.  Having pushed the limits of that agriculture to its limits where resource/food scarcity becomes realized, a new ethic emerges, similar to what is being attempted with Permies.com.  Clearly it may take tens, hundreds, thousands of years for the new ethic to become ingrained, but that new ethic effectively restores the fertility of the region......until the next non-ethical (with respect to resource utilization) wave of humans (...or something else this time) comes over the hills and obliterates and/or enslaves the more ethical group and the destruction of the soil fertility begins again.....lather, rinse, repeat.  This type of scenario *may* factor into the boom and bust cycles of animal/plant/ecosystem flux that can't be explained by other means.
 
John Weiland
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Cody D., even if it ends up not being your cup of tea, Vine Deloria Jr's "Red Earth, White Lies: Native Americans and the Myth of Scientific Fact" may be good to have on hand for another perspective of Bering Strait and Megafauna extinction theories (apologies for using 'hypothesis' in a previous post above)...is a fun read it its own right.

Another author's take on both Martin and Deloria Jr.:  "Martin’s theory that “man, and man alone” was the culprit does not make sense. Vine Deloria, Jr., a Lakota lawyer and author, agrees, but for very different reasons than the ones I have given here. Deloria dismissed “mythical Pleistocene hit men” and favored instead earthquakes, volcanoes, and floods of Indian legend, which, he speculated, had catastrophic continental reach. But he is silent on the evidence for the continental reach of legendary events, and undermines his case by vilifying science. I argue here that Martin does not make sense, not because of Deloria’s catastrophes, but because he excludes fundamental and potentially far-reaching changes in climate. Yet because there is still much we fail to understand about the precise mechanisms in climate or the precise responses in animal reproduction and behavior, and because man has played a role in the demise of animals elsewhere, it seems unwise to rule out a role for man altogether. The Pleistocene extinctions continue to resist sound-bite explanations."  -- http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/nattrans/ntecoindian/essays/pleistocene.htm

It's a fun topic.  I'm still kind of a fan, with no supportive evidence whatsoever, of a "reverse" migration from human origins in the Americas to other parts of the world.  It explains why the pyramid builders in the Americas were finally smart enough to say "OK, enough!.....This pyramid/civ-building is for the birds!.....Everyone file out of town nicely and go back to tribal living!....."      All the while those that earlier went to other continents never figured this out.  Granted, a more lame version of that proposed by others, but fun to toy with.


 
duane hennon
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http://www.davidmeyercreations.com/strange-science/who-killed-off-all-the-buffalo/

The Rise of the Buffalo?

Interestingly enough, the rise of the American buffalo may have coincided with the fall of the Native American tribes. According to this theory, put forth by Charles Mann, the Native Americans originally created grasslands for the buffalo population and heavily regulated their activities.

    “Hernando De Soto’s expedition staggered through the Southeast for four years in the early 16th century and saw hordes of people but apparently did not see a single bison.” ~ Charles Mann, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

When the Europeans first arrived in the New World, they inadvertently brought along diseases with them. Native Americans died off in massive numbers and buffalo herds found themselves free. They began to roam and quickly spread across the land, eventually becoming the most dominant large animal in what is now the United States.
Who Killed the Buffalo?

So, that helps explain the spread of the buffalo. But what about the fall? Well, it appears there are a few culprits here…the Native Americans themselves, commercial hunters, and the U.S. Army.

Native Americans, contrary to popular opinion, were not quite the “noble savages” they are often portrayed to be in modern culture. They hunted buffalo in large numbers, even going so far as to herd them into makeshift chutes and stampede them over cliffs (this took place at the well-named Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump in Alberta, Canada along with many others). The Comanche alone killed more than 280,000 buffalo a year.

    “They were killing more than 280,000 bison a year – the maximum loss the herds could sustain without imploding – and at the very time the great drought of 1845-50 was exacerbating the situation.” ~ Frank McLynn, Review of The Comanche Empire by Pekka Hämäläinen



so we could say that the large buffalo herds were  an ecologically unbalanced  monoculture
brought on by unintentional circumstances started in the 1500's
the post apocalypse  disease survivors (think mad max) formed new societies and myths
based upon the now plentiful buffalo

since when is trying to bring ecological balance back to the land a bad thing?
 
Marcus Billings
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Hi Cody,

1491 is a great read.  There's a lot to be said for Europeans just walking into vacant farms that the Native Americans left after illnesses depleted their numbers. But even with the high (and speculative) estimate of Native American population, they didn't wipe out all mammalian life.  It took rifles to finally make eastern elk, woodland bison, whitetail deer, etc., extinct in all and parts of the country.  That's why I come back to climate.  Again, this is just conjecture on my part, but it seems like most of the high profile megafauna that died were niche specialist (diet, habitat, etc.) Generalist who ate a wide variety of food such as pronghorn antelope (a prehistoric species to be sure), many deer species, bighorn sheep, cougars, wolves, bears, all survived and thrived.  If the ground sloth had a very specific diet, and a fast changing climate eliminated those plants that it fed on, it doesn't seem like to much of a stretch to imagine the saber-tooth tiger that preyed on it going extinct as well.  I know that's a gross generalization of the situation, but again, it seems more plausible than paleolithic hunters.  Climate is an all encompassing factor.  There were definitely places where humans weren't, but climate is everywhere.  Also, I've never heard a good explanation for why, on the continent where humans have been the longest, that the megafauna survived (Africa). People only started putting an extinction level hurt on the wildlife in Africa when firearms were brought into the picture. 

The Younger Dryas is pretty much accepted as a "cold" (excuse the pun) hard fact.  After a period of warming, snowfall accelerated and temperatures plummeted over a span of maybe just a few years.  Harvard did a Greenland Ice core study noting the effect (2013). They think a comet might have been the cause, who knows.
Here's a blurb about the article "Using data from the Greenland ice core, Michail Petaev and his colleagues at Harvard University have found what appears to be evidence of this impact. Their research appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Measurements of oxygen isotopes in the Greenland ice core show that around 13,000 years ago an episode of rapid cooling, which lasted only about 1,000 years, occurred. During this time, many megafauna became extinct and evidence of the Clovis people, one of the earliest human societies to inhabit the Americas, disappeared from the archaeological record."  Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2013-08-evidence-cosmic-impact-younger-dryas.html#jCp

Scientist go back and forth as to the cause, everybody has their pet theories, but most of them agree that the climate changed very fast, warm to cold and back to warm again. 

This a great article on climate and extinction that puts the blame on the warming periods:  https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn27952-megafauna-extinction-dna-evidence-pins-blame-on-climate-change/

As for books, check out American Megafaunal Extinctions at the End of the Pleistocene, Gary Haynes, editor, and the Sixth Extinction by Kohlbert, Sp?

On an end note, I do not believe man was responsible for the mega-fauna extinctions 13,000 years ago, but I do firmly believe that because we live in a finite world, and it will only support so much animal life in totality, as the human species population continues to rise, we will see more and more loss of other life forms.


 
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