Skip to comments.Humans to Blame for Ice Age Extinctions, Study Says
Posted on 08/11/2005 11:02:22 AM PDT by ZULU
Humans are likely responsible for the extinction of Ice Age megafaunalarge mammals like giant sloths, short-faced bears, mammoths, and saber-toothed catsthat occurred in the Americas around 11,000 years ago, a new study says.
Scientists have long debated whether giant pre-historic mammals disappeared because of climate change or because humans hunted them to extinction.
The mass extinctions coincided with both the end of the last Ice Age and the arrival of humans in the Americas around 11,000 years ago. This timing has made it difficult for scientists to isolate the cause of the species' disappearance.
But a study comparing the extinction of giant ground sloths in North and South America with the disappearance of their smaller relatives in West Indian islands has helped clear up the picture, scientists say.
The researchers say archaeological and fossil evidence strongly suggests that ancient hunters pushed the animals to extinction.
Giant ground sloths "cruised through" at least 22 major climate cycles as the continental ice sheets in North America advanced and retreated over the last two million years, said David Steadman, a paleobiologist at the University of Florida.
Steadman is a co-author of the new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"The only thing that's different [at the end of the Ice Age] is the arrival of people," he said.
Giant Sloth: A Case Study
Until about 11,000 years ago, at least 19 different sloth species lived in North and South America in a variety of ecosystems. Only a few small, tree-dwelling sloth species survive today.
Steadman and his colleagues argue that if ecosystem shifts resulting from climate change caused the sloths' demise, then all extinctionson both islands and the mainlandshould have taken place at the same time, as the last Ice Age ended between 15,000 to 9,000 years ago.
Radiocarbon dates of bones, dung, and other tissue of extinct sloths place their last appearance in North America at around 11,000 years ago and at about 10,500 years ago in South America, Steadman says.
But on the islands of Cuba and Hispaniolashared today by modern-day Haiti and the Dominican Republicsloths survived until about 4,400 years ago.
Their subsequent extinction coincided exactly with the arrival of the first humans on the islands, Steadman says.
"What [this study] shows us is that there's this great big suggestive pattern that we find: Wherever human beings first appear all around the world, these large mammals pretty quickly become extinct," said Gary Haynes, an archaeologist at the University of Nevada at Reno, who was not involved in the study.
"[Some] people will say that you have to [establish the cause of extinction] species by species, and I think they're probably right," Haynes added. "But the study does create a good model that might make us think that if it worked for one big animal it's probably what we'll find for other big animals."
Overkill Vs. Climate Change
Steadman and his colleagues argue that megafauna species on the American continents, having evolved in an environment without humans, may have been particularly vulnerable to the sudden appearance of big game hunters.
The 5,000-pound (2,300-kilogram) giant ground sloth is a case in point. In addition to having no fear of humans, it was the size of a modern-day elephant, it couldn't hide, and as it name implies, it moved very slowly.
"Walking up to a ground sloth and trying to spear it to death probably wasn't one of the most macho things they [early hunters] did," Steadman said. "Any hunter could outrun one."
But other scientists maintain that climate change was the driving force in Ice Age extinctions. They argue that the retreat of ice sheets from North America caused a major change in habitat that the giant mammals couldn't adapt to.
At the peak of the Ice Age around 20,000 years ago, the ice covered much of North America.
As the sheets melted between 18,000 and 8,000 years ago, warmer temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns forced plants and animals to move out of old habitats and into new ones.
Proponents of the climate-change theory add that there's little evidence that humans hunted anything other than mammoths. Yet species like wild horses, camels, and saber-toothed cats all went extinct at about the same time.
"There are no archaeological sites for species other than mammoths, and perhaps mastodons, where you find a spear sticking out of an animal, and everyone agrees that there is evidence of human hunting," Nevada's Haynes said.
"So the lack of kill sites doesn't bother me," he added. "There's a real lack of a 'smoking gun' implicating either climate change or human hunting, but that's true for every theory."
Climate change may have been a factor in pushing the animals to extinction, Steadman says, but it took humans to push them over the edge.
"Animals like the ground sloth, which had a poor ability to regulate body temperature, should have thrived in a warmer climate," he said.
"Humans to Blame for Ice Age Extinctions, Study Says"
There is a typo here Humans should read BUSH to Blame
They were so greedy and primitive back then. They used to order slabs of ribs so huge that they would literally tip their cars over.
They couldn't believe they ate the whole thing!
Or rather, the slots evolved into...Democrats!
Damn that Fred Flintstone and his rock-wheeled SUV!!!
Wow, and here I thought if it weren't for us humans, the earth would go merrily along in pristine perfection for all eternity.
Without a video I don't think I'll "choose" to believe this story.
What is not a theory is that scientists have too much time on their hands coming up with more and more theories. Until they present facts their theories belong in comic books.
Wasn't Helen Thomas a young girl back then?
One that engulfed North American and Canada 11,000 years ago and took 7000 more years to get to Cuba and Hispaniola.
Well, I suppose it could have been a flood of molasses.
Giant ground sloth - it's what's for dinner!
The only humans in the Americas at that time were Indians, uh, sorry, Siberian-Americans, who we all know lived in peace and harmony with their surroundings and were perfect stewards of the environment. (Of course they did cultivate a little of that awful weed for smoking - tobacco.)
They couldn't possibly have caused thye extinction of any species. It has to be evil European white males who are responsible for this travesty. (Maybe the Vikings got here earlier than anybody thought.)
Wooly Mammoth... the "other white meat".
Talk about slothful behavior!!!
No wonder the Vulcans didn't think we were ready for space exploration and the Klingons and Romulans hated us so much.
Needless to say, the professional acitivsts among them hate this theory. See, they were a peaceful people living in harmony with their environment, before Whitey came.
The fact is, the biggest ecological disaster for Australia was the arrival of the aborigines; the biggest for New Zealand was the arrival of the Maoris; the biggest for Hawaii the arrival of the Native Hawaiians. By the time Europeans arrived here and to those places, there wasn't a whole lot left to despoil.
> The fact is, the biggest ecological disaster for
> Australia ... New Zealand ... Hawaii ...
And we won't even bring up Easter Island prior to whitey.
Don't. It's ugly. You've read 'Collapse'?
I demand restitution from the American Indians for killing the Mastadon!
. . . around the high plains of West Texas/Panhandle (e.g., near Canyon is one example), you can still find huge piles of bones where the Indians would repeatedly drive entire herds of buffalo off the cliffs . . .
Such a sensitive group of folks.