Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology

pp 5382-5390

North American Megafauna Extinction: Climate or Overhunting?

  • Gary HaynesAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, University of Nevada-Reno Email author 


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, wh ...

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