TED Conversations

Jake Maddox

Field Service Engineer,


This conversation is closed.

Pleistocene extinction of megafauna not caused by paleo-indian hunters

I've often been fascinated by the megafauna of the Pleistocene, more so than any other great epoch in history. I think the reason it interest me so much is because it was not all that long ago, and that modern humans interacted and hunted these animals. In France, beautiful cave drawings were painted by skilled ancient artist in Chauvet Cave over 25,000 years ago, depicting some animals than have since gone extinct. Around 13,000 years ago, the megafauna of the late Pleistocene began to disappear. The major extinciton happened in North America, however many megafauna on other continents also became extinct. Animals that went extinct included mammoths, mastedons, giant armadillo, giant beaver, giant bears, several species of wild horse, wooly rhino, species of bison and oxen, stag-moose and many others. Is it really plausible that the first people to arrive in the americas killed millions of animals to extinction? These were a nomadic people, living in small hunter groups, not organized communities or tribes of hundreds or thousands. We know that numbers of early americans were limited because the lack of archeological sites doesn't support large numbers of paleo-indians circa 13,000 BCE. Let us ask ourselves, how many people could one mammoth support and for how long? Around 490 lbs of meat can be extracted from a 1200 lb steer. A Columbian Mammoth weighed up to 10 tons or 20,000 pounds. So conservatively it may have yielded 5,000 to 7,000 lbs of meat! Through salting or smoking the meat can be preserved, as well as preserved naturally in colder conditions. It would have greatly benefited these hunters to find ways of preserving their kill, as hunts were undoubtedly dangerous and may not have always been succesful. The large number of predators at the time would surely have had a greater impact on reducing the numbers of grazing fauna. These predators include dire wolves, north american lions, bears, saber-toothed cats, and others. So what really happened?


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • Jun 12 2013: Or how about the comet impact in the Great Lakes region about 12K years ago. It rerouted the Great Lakes out flow from the once more expansive Mississippi to the St' Lawrence, creating Niagara Falls. Surely that would have global implications. Mankind took a big hit from that and had it not happened we might be thousands of years ahead in terms of civilization.
    • thumb
      Jun 12 2013: The comet theory does present a lot of evidence, however it has lost support in recent years. I myself believe in the impact. Check out the Carolina Bays. Interesting features.
    • thumb
      Jun 18 2013: Global? Maybe North America and Western Europe but I doubt the Chinese noticed or native Australians.
      • Jun 19 2013: Evidence of advanced middle eastern cities dating to around that time have been found--6 to 7 thousand years earlier than thought the progression. It is certainly possible that a comet impact in the Americas could impact the global climate and perhaps bring civilization-retarding events like sustained droughts or harsh weather and storms.
        • thumb
          Jun 19 2013: I was meaning to say that the areas in which civilisation as we know it first started are far away from north America. (mainly fron North Africa over to East Asia) Even if a comet impact in North America was noticeable in the Middle East, the effects would have only been decades not thousands of years.
      • Jun 19 2013: I don't know how you could say that, Peter. A civilization could be killed off entirely by any number of events. See Göbekli Tepe, an ancient site in Turkey, which was advanced thousands of years ahead of what we thought were the beginnings of engineered cities. Ancient people capable of this were still not a massive population as lives today and lived precariously at the whims of nature--including comets if not volcanism anywhere else in the world. Humanity was almost stopped entirely about 75K years ago with the last eruption of a "super-volcano". It was in Indonesia and humans are thought to have been reduced to a few thousand survivors world wide--most being thousands of miles away. Anything that kicks up that much gunk into the atmosphere--a phenomenal cataclysm will bring on hardship if not destruction for early civilizations. Without the setbacks of Mt. Toba and perhaps the comet in the Great Lakes the story of humanity would be entirely different and we'd have a lot more ancient mitochondrial DNA lines existing in latter-day folks. Imagine being 75,000 years further advanced.
        • thumb
          Jun 19 2013: Yes the Mt Toba eruption pushed us from stone-age back to slightly earlier stone-age.
      • Jun 19 2013: Did more than that. It extinguished all lines of mitochondrial DNA except the few that made it. There is no way to say if some of those strains might have been actually more advanced than the ones that just happened to survive. Conversley, they could be lesser or the same. No one knows how many people died as a result but it's not a stretch to say some human populations were wiped out entirely. Until then it had been a multi-million year march. Then the ELE event hit. And super-volcanoes are still active.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.