We didn’t kill off the Mammoth. Phew!

Woolly mammoths and other large, lumbering beasts faced extinction long before early humans perfected their skills as spearmakers, scientists say. The prehistoric giants began their precipitous decline nearly 2,000 years before our ancestors turned stone fragments into sophisticated spearpoints at the end of the last ice age…

“Some people thought humans arrived and decimated the populations of these animals in a few hundred years, but what we’ve found is not consistent with that rapid ‘blitzkrieg’ overkill of large animals,” said Jacquelyn Gill…who led the research team…

Gill’s team rules this out by putting a more accurate date on the decline and fall of woolly mammoths and more than 30 other large mammals that dominated the landscape as the ice sheets retreated from North America…

Specifically, the scientists measured levels of a fungus that is known to thrive in the excrement of giant herbivorous mammals and nowhere else. They reasoned that more fungal spores meant more dung, which in turn reflected a larger population of roaming mammals. The sediments also held ancient pollen and charcoal dust, which gave the team clues about the predominant plant life and frequency of wildfires.

Writing the US journal Science, the researchers describe how the amount of mammal dung started to fall around 14,800 years ago, long before advanced spearheads became commonplace. The animals had been almost completely wiped out a thousand years later…

The study is among the first to reveal the environmental consequences of such a catastrophic decline in species. Pollen and charcoal recovered from the sediment cores show that wildfires became far more common and that the variety of plant life changed dramatically, as the nutritious and easily digestible trees and shrubs that were eaten by the mammals grew back.

This more gradual decline appears to have been an understandable result of changing food sources on the tundra. We just jumped in at the end and finished the critters off.

9 thoughts on “We didn’t kill off the Mammoth. Phew!

  1. Mr. Fusion says:

    I’m a little skeptical. Humans could not have finished off the Short Faced Bear, Smilodon Tiger, or Giant Sloth. These animals were too big and powerful to be bothered by spears.

    Even today it often takes several shots from high powered firearms to kill large bears such as Grizzlys and Kodiaks and elephants. The Short Faced Bear was twice their size and the apex predator.

    Even thinking humans armed with spears could kill a 10,000 lb mammoth seems a stretch to me. Maybe if the animal was already injured it could be finished off, but it would take a heck of a spear throw to do one in.

    Just my lay person opinion that doesn’t think humans were all that great in the early years.

    • keaneo says:

      There’s been a decent series on the evolution of hominids on PBS lately. As we got closer to Neanderthal, us scrawny, short-toothed carnivores picked up the same tactics used by some canines.

      We hunted in packs and utilized our endurance over speed. You don’t leave a herd of mammoths enough time to rest up.

      Killing a mammoth with spears wouldn’t have been much more difficult than an African elephant – using the same tactics. In fact, one of those PBS specials showed footage of Zambezi in Africa using exactly the same tactic.

      • Mr. Fusion says:

        I don’t pretend to be an expert, after all I’m noted for my looks not my brains.

        Mammoth were larger than African Elephants, by at least 2,000 lbs. They were also covered in very heavy, course fur. Sure a pack animal would have better success. Any animal though would be much better off chasing game that offers less of a chance to fight back. Bison, elk, and deer fit that niche much better.

        Why did the Short Faced Bear and Smilodon Tiger both go extinct at the same time? Carnivores seldom hunt other carnivores. Yet the American bison survived this period plus the next 12,000 years even though they were a major staple of the human diet? Other large herbivores, such as elk and caribou also thrived. Polar Bears and Kodiak Bears are still very large animals and even today are only hunted with high powered rifles.

        As I said, I’m not an expert. I do have a difficult time accepting some “science” because it makes the package neat and answers difficult questions. All I know is that approximately 11,000 years ago all the very large animals went extinct even though they had lasted through several ice ages and warmings. That included vegetarians such as mastodons and mammoths and the giant sloth. Omnivores such as the giant Short Faced Bear dies off too just as the flora increased with the retreating ice. And pure carnivores such as the American Lion and Smilodon disappeared too.

        Ok, I can accept that maybe a virus jumped from mammoths to large cats. Then why weren’t cougars and jaguars effected? Or from the giant cats to bears, but why not Grizzlies and Polar Bears?

    • god says:

      I don’t anyone here is essentially in disagreement.

      The point of the study was that researchers have determined the Mammoth was severely diminished before humans (Athabascans, I presume) were capable of truly killing off the species.

      All the other discussions are about mano a mammotho.

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