, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp 275-289

Optimal hunting and Pleistocene extinction

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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.

An earlier version of this paper was delivered under the title “Optimal Foraging and Pleistocene Extinction” as part of a symposium entitled, “Environments and Extinctions: Man in the Late Glacial North America” (J. I. Mead and D. J. Meltzer, Organizers) held at the 47th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Minneapolis, Minnesota, April 14–17 1982.