Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology

2014 Edition
| Editors: Claire Smith

North American Megafauna Extinction: Climate or Overhunting?

Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-0465-2_1853

Introduction

In North America, nearly three dozen genera of large terrestrial mammals (known as megafauna, the animals whose adult body mass was >44 kg) went extinct just before, at, or soon after the end of the Pleistocene epoch, 10,000 radiocarbon years BP (before present) (about 11,350 calibrated or calendar years before present, written as cal BP) (Table 1). The extinctions removed almost 70 % of the terrestrial mammalian taxa known from Late Glacial North America, although six of the genera are still found on other continents (marked in Table 1). The dying out of some of the extinct mammalian genera may have predated the end of the Pleistocene, co-occurring with various climatic oscillations. Not all the genera are well dated, and last appearances are not confidently known for many. Some extinctions may have postdated the Pleistocene. Mammuthus primigenius(woolly mammoth) survived to the mid-Holocene on the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea west of mainland Alaska, where bones...
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access

References

  1. Anderson, D.G., S.C. Meeks, A.C. Goodyear & D.S. Miller. 2008. Southeastern data inconsistent with Paleoindian demographic reconstruction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 105: E108.Google Scholar
  2. Buchanan, B., M. Collard & K. Edinborough. 2008. Paleoindian demography and the extraterrestrial impact hypothesis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 105: 11651-54.Google Scholar
  3. Crossen, K.J. 2005. 5,700-year-old mammoth remains from the Pribilof Islands, Alaska: last outpost of North America megafauna. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs 37: 463.Google Scholar
  4. Faith, J.T. & T. Surovell. 2009. Synchronous extinction of North America’s Pleistocene mammals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 106: 20641-45.Google Scholar
  5. Faunmap Working Group. 1994. FAUNMAP: a database documenting late Quaternary distributions of mammal species in the United States. Illinois State Museum Scientific Papers Vol. 25, No. 1.Google Scholar
  6. Feranec, R.S. 2004. Geographic variation in the diet of hypsodont herbivores from the Rancholabrean of Florida. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 207: 359-69.Google Scholar
  7. Firestone, R.B., A. West, J.P. Kennett, T.E. Bunch, Z.S. Revay, P.H. Schultz, T. Belgya, D.J. Kennett, J.M. Erlandson, O.J. Dickenson, A.C. Goodyear, R.S. Harris, G.A. Howard, J.B. Kloosterman, P. Lechler, P.A. Mayewski, J. Montgomery, R. Preda, T. Darrah, S.S. Que Hee, A.R. Smith, A. Stich, W. Topping, J.H. Wittke, & W.S. Wolbach. 2007. Evidence for an extraterrestrial impact 12,900 years ago that contributed to the megafaunal extinctions and the Younger Dryas cooling. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 104: 16016-21.Google Scholar
  8. Grayson, D.K. 1984. Nineteenth-century explanations of Pleistocene extinctions: a review and analysis, in P.S. Martin & R.G. Klein (ed.) Quaternary extinctions: a prehistoric revolution: 5-39. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.Google Scholar
  9. Guthrie, R.D. 1984. Mosaics, allelochemics, and nutrients: an ecological theory of late Pleistocene megafaunal extinctions, in P.S. Martin & R.G. Klein (ed.) Quaternary extinctions: a prehistoric revolution: 259-98. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.Google Scholar
  10. Haynes, G. 1980. Prey bones and predators: potential ecologic information from analysis of bone sites. Ossa 7: 75-97.Google Scholar
  11. - 2002. The early settlement of North America: the Clovis era. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Hoppe, K.A. 2004. Late Pleistocene mammoth herd structure, migration patterns, and Clovis hunting strategies inferred from isotopic analyses of multiple death assemblages. Paleobiology 30: 129-45.Google Scholar
  13. Kennett, D.J., J.P. Kennett, A. West, C. Mercer, S.S. Que Hee, L. Bement, T.E. Bunch, M. Sellers & W.S. Wolbach. 2009. Nanodiamonds in the Younger Dryas boundary sediment layer. Science 323: 94.Google Scholar
  14. Krasinski, K.E. 2010. Broken bones and cutmarks: taphonomic analyses and implications for the peopling of North America. Unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Nevada, Reno.Google Scholar
  15. Lorenzen, E.D., D. Nogués-Bravo, L. Orlando, J. Weinstock, J. Binladen, K.A. Marske, A. Ugan, M.K. Borregaard, M.T.P. Gilbert, R. Nielsen, S.Y.W. Ho, T. Goebel, K.E. Graf, D. Byers, J.T. Stenderup, M. Rasmussen, P.F. Campos, J.A. Leonard, K.-P. Koepfli, D. Froese, G. Zazula, T.W. Stafford Jr., K. Aaris-Sørensen, P. Batra, A.M. Haywood, J.S. Singarayer, P.J. Valdes, G. Boeskorov, J.A. Burns, S.P. Davydov, J. Haile, D.L. Jenkins, P. Kosintsev, T. Kuznetsova, X. Lai, L.D. Martin, H.G. McDonald, D. Mol, M. Meldgaard, K. Munch, E. Stephan, M. Sablin, R.S. Sommer, T. Sipko, E. Scott, M.A. Suchard, A. Tikhonov, R. Willerslev, R.K. Wayne, A. Cooper, M. Hofreiter, A. Sher, B. Shapiro, C. Rahbek & E. Willerslev. 2011. Species-specific responses of late Quaternary megafauna to climate and humans. Nature 479: 359-64.Google Scholar
  16. MacPhee, R.D.E. & P.A. Marx. 1997. The 40,000 year plague: humans, hyperdisease and first-contact extinctions, in S. Goodman & B. Patterson (ed.) Natural change and human impact in Madagascar: 169-217. Washington (DC): Smithsonian Institution Press.Google Scholar
  17. Martin, P.S. 1984. Prehistoric overkill: the global model, in P.S. Martin & R.G. Klein (ed.) Pleistocene extinctions: a prehistoric revolution: 354-403. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.Google Scholar
  18. Paquay, F.S., S. Goderis, G. Ravizza, F. VanHaeck, M. Boyd, T.A. Surovell, V.T. Holliday, C.V. Haynes, Jr. & P. Claeys. 2009. Absence of geochemical evidence for an impact event at the Bølling-Allerød/Younger Dryas transition. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 106: 21505-510.Google Scholar
  19. Prescott, G.W., D.R. Williams, A. Balmford, R.E. Green & A. Manica. 2012. Quantitative global analysis of the role of climate and people in explaining late Quaternary megafaunal extinctions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. (published online before print March 5, 2012) doi: 10.1073/pnas.1113875109.Google Scholar
  20. Redmond, B.G., H.G. McDonald, H.J. Greenfield & M.L. Burr. 2012. New evidence for late Pleistocene human exploitation of Jefferson’s Ground Sloth (Megalonyx jeffersonii) from northern Ohio, USA. World Archaeology 44: 75-101.Google Scholar
  21. Saunders, J.J. 1980. A model for man-mammoth relationships in late Pleistocene North America. Canadian Journal of Anthropology 1: 87-98.Google Scholar
  22. Surovell, T.A. & N.M. Waguespack. 2009. Human prey choice in the late Pleistocene and its relation to megafaunal extinctions, in G. Haynes (ed.) American megafaunal extinctions at the end of the Pleistocene: 77-105. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  23. Waters, M.R. & T.W. Stafford, Jr. 2007. Redefining the age of Clovis: implications for the peopling of the Americas. Science 315: 1122-26.Google Scholar

Further Reading

  1. Agenbroad, L.D. 2005. North American proboscideans: mammoths: the state of knowledge, 2003. Quaternary International 126-128: 73-92.Google Scholar
  2. Alroy, J. 1999. Putting North America’s end-Pleistocene megafaunal extinctions in context, in R.D.E. MacPhee (ed.) Extinctions in near time: causes, contexts, and consequence: 105-43. New York, Kluwer Academic/Plenum.Google Scholar
  3. Anderson, E. 1984. Who’s who in the Pleistocene: a mammalian bestiary, in P.S. Martin & R.G. Klein (ed.) Quaternary extinctions: a prehistoric revolution: 40-89. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.Google Scholar
  4. Barnosky, A.D., P.L. Koch, R.S. Feranec, S.L. Wing & A.B. Shabel. 2004. Assessing the causes of late Pleistocene extinctions on the continents. Science 306: 70-5.Google Scholar
  5. Burney, D.A. & T.F. Flannery. 2005. Fifty millennia of catastrophic extinctions after human contact. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 20: 395-401.Google Scholar
  6. Byers, D.A. & A. Ugan. 2005. Should we expect large game specialization in the late Pleistocene? An optimal foraging perspective on early Paleoindian prey choice. Journal of Archaeological Science 32: 1624-40.Google Scholar
  7. Cannon, M.D. & D.J. Meltzer. 2004. Early Paleoindian foraging: examining the faunal evidence for large mammal specialization and regional variability in prey choice. Quaternary Science Reviews 23: 1955-87.Google Scholar
  8. Fiedel, S. 2009. Sudden deaths: the chronology of terminal Pleistocene megafaunal extinction, in G. Haynes (ed.) American megafaunal extinctions at the end of the Pleistocene: 21-37. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  9. Fiedel, S. & G. Haynes. 2004. A premature burial: comments on Grayson’s and Meltzer’s “Requiem for overkill”. Journal of Archaeological Science 31: 121-31.Google Scholar
  10. Graham, R.W. & E.L. Lundelius Jr. 1984. Coevolutionary disequilibrium and Pleistocene extinctions, in P.S. Martin & R.G. Klein (ed.) Quaternary extinctions: a prehistoric revolution: 211-22. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.Google Scholar
  11. Grayson, D.K. 2011. The Great Basin: a natural prehistory. Berkeley: University of California.Google Scholar
  12. Grayson, D.K. & D.J. Meltzer. 2003. A requiem for North American overkill. Journal of Archaeological Science 30: 1633-48.Google Scholar
  13. Grund, B.S., T.A. Surovell & S.K. Lyons. 2012. Range sizes and shifts of North American Pleistocene mammals are not consistent with a climatic explanation for extinction. World Archaeology 44: 43-55.Google Scholar
  14. Guthrie, R.D. 2003. Rapid body size decline in Alaskan Pleistocene horses before extinction. Nature 426: 169-71.Google Scholar
  15. - 2004. Radiocarbon evidence of mid-Holocene mammoths stranded on an Alaskan Bering Sea island. Nature 429: 746-49.Google Scholar
  16. Haile, J., D.G. Froese, R.D.E. MacPhee, R.G. Roberts, L.J. Arnold, A.V. Reyes, M. Rasmussen, R. Nielsen, B.W. Brook, S. Robinson, M. Demuro, M.T.P. Gilbert, K. Much, J.J. Austin, A. Cooper, I. Barnes, P. Möller & E. Willerslev. 2009. Ancient DNA reveals late survival of mammoth and horse in interior Alaska. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 106: 22352-57.Google Scholar
  17. Harris, A.H. 1985. Late Pleistocene vertebrate paleoecology of the West. Austin: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  18. Haynes, G. 2009a. Introduction to the volume, in G. Haynes (ed.) American megafaunal extinctions at the end of the Pleistocene: 1-20. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  19. - 2009b. Estimates of Clovis-era megafaunal populations and their extinction risks, in G. Haynes (ed.) American megafaunal extinctions at the end of the Pleistocene: 39-54. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
  20. Koch, P.L. & A.D. Barnosky. 2006. Late Quaternary extinctions: state of the debate. Annual Review of Ecology and Evolutionary Systematics 37: 215-50.Google Scholar
  21. Martin, P.S. 1973. The discovery of America. Science 179: 969-74.Google Scholar
  22. - 1990. 40,000 years of extinctions on the “planet of doom”. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology (Global and Planetary Change Section) 82: 187-201.Google Scholar
  23. Martin, P.S. & D.W. Steadman. 1999. Prehistoric extinctions on islands and continents, in R.D.E. MacPhee (ed.) Extinctions in near time: causes, contexts, and consequences: 17-55. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum.Google Scholar
  24. Mithen, S. 1993. Simulating mammoth hunting and extinction: implications for the late Pleistocene of the central Russian Plain, in G.L. Peterkin, H.M. Bricker & P. Mellars (ed.) Hunting and animal exploitation in the later Palaeolithic and Mesolithic of Eurasia: 163-78. Anthropological Papers of the American Anthropological Association 4.Google Scholar
  25. Mosimann, J.E. & P.S. Martin. 1975. Simulating overkill by Paleoindians. American Scientist 63: 303-13.Google Scholar
  26. Saunders, J.J. 1992. Blackwater Draw: mammoths and mammoth hunters in the terminal Pleistocene, in J.W. Fox, C.B. Smith & K.T. Wilkins (ed.) Proboscideans and Paleoindian interactions: 123-47. Waco: Baylor University Press.Google Scholar
  27. - 2007. Processing marks on remains of Mammuthus columbi from the Dent site, Colorado, in light of those from Clovis, New Mexico, in R.H. Brunswig & B.L. Pitblado. (ed.) Frontiers in Colorado Paleoindian archaeology: 155-82. Boulder: University of Colorado Press.Google Scholar
  28. Steadman, D.W. & P.S. Martin. 1984. Extinction of birds in the late Pleistocene of North America, in P.S. Martin & R.G. Klein (ed.) Pleistocene extinctions: a prehistoric revolution: 466-77. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.Google Scholar
  29. Surovell, T.A., V.T. Holliday, J.A.M. Gingerich, A. Ketron, C.V. Haynes Jr., I. Hilman, D.P. Wagner, E. Johnson & P. Clayes. 2009. An independent evaluation of the Younger Dryas extraterrestrial impact hypothesis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 106: 18155-158.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of Nevada-RenoRenoUSA