Humans Weren’t the Only Cause of the Woolly Mammoth’s Extinction


 Woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) in a late Pleistocene landscape in northern Spain. (Information according to the caption of the same image in Alan Turner (2004) National Geographic Prehistoric Mammals, Washington, D.C.: National Geographic. Image: Wikimedia Commons
Woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) in a late Pleistocene landscape in northern Spain. (Information according to the caption of the same image in Alan Turner (2004) National Geographic Prehistoric Mammals, Washington, D.C.: National Geographic. Image: Wikimedia Commons
A long-held theory about why great beasts like the woolly mammoth or saber-toothed tiger went extinct is the overkill hypothesis, which argues that early human predation took out the giant mammals roaming the Earth during the Late Pleistocene period. But new research suggests the mammals‘ demise isn’t entirely on our distant ancestors’ shoulders after all.

By Steve Huff | MOTHERBOARD

Research from a multinational team of scientists studying the vanishing of large mammals (the study team focused on animals weighing 100 pounds or more) from South America indicates that an unfortunate collision between rapid climate warming and the expansion of humans drove the creatures out of existence.

The study, recently published in the journal Science Advances, used genetic data and carbon-dated bone samples to determine that a striking number of animals had died around the same time period, about 12,300 years ago. Humans had arrived around 3,000 years before the mass deaths and apparently lived for a time in a relatively balanced existence with the great animals.

It was only when a sudden and rapid warming period caused changes in plant growth and rainfall around the world that notable extinctions occurred. The research suggests these major climate shifts and hungry, predatory humans combined to spell the end.

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