Human Ecology

, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp 275-289

First online:

Optimal hunting and Pleistocene extinction

  • David WebsterAffiliated withThe Pennsylvania State University
  • , Gary WebsterAffiliated withThe Pennsylvania State University

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


A basic assumption of the Pleistocene extinction, or “overkill” hypothesis, is that rates of human predation on numerous genera of megafauna exceeded prey replacement rates. Previous assessments of this hypothesis have often stressed the technological or organizational capabilities of Paleolithic hunters to harvest prey in sufficient numbers to threaten extinction. Optimal foraging models and ethnographic observations of modern hunters-gatherers provide a logical basis for assessing the feasibility of alternative reconstructions of Paleolithic hunting strategies as well as their compatibility with the concept of critically high rates of predation sufficient to cause extinction.

Key words

Paleolithic hunting overkill optimality