Early History and Biogeography of South America’s Extinct Land Mammals

  • M. C. McKenna
Part of the Advances in Primatology book series (AIPR)


South America’s peculiar extinct mammalian fauna has been a source of fascination since the late 1700’s when a Pleistocene skeleton of the giant ground sloth Megatherium, later described by Cuvier (1796, 1812), was unearthed and sent to Spain by the Dominican Manuel Torres. Strange new Pleistocene discoveries continued to be made throughout the 19th Century (see, for instance, Darwin, 1839; Lund, 1841; Owen, 1842). Toward the end of the 1800’s the Tertiary faunal history of South America began to be documented, notably by the famous Ameghino brothers. The history of 19th- and 20th-Century vertebrate paleontology in South America, however, has been the subject of excellent summaries elsewhere (e.g., Simpson, 1940, 1948, 1967, 1978; Marshall et al., in press a,b) and will only be mentioned briefly where appropriate here. The purpose of this study is to provide a critique of theories of the origin, rather than the full history, of the early mammalian fauna of a southern land mass that has changed its geological affinities profoundly since the Jurassic. I shall not be much concerned with the effects of reconnection of South with Central America during the Pliocene. For discussions of the resulting “Great American Interchange” at the end of the Cenozoic, one is referred to Patterson and Pascual (1968a), Webb (1976, 1978a,b), Marshall and Hecht (1978), Marshall (1979), and Marshall et al. (1979).


Middle Miocene Cheek Tooth Mammalian Fauna Continental Drift Vertebrate Paleontology 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. C. McKenna
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Vertebrate PaleontologyAmerican Museum of Natural HistoryNew YorkUSA

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