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Blame North America megafauna extinction on climate change, not human ancestors

Even such mythical detectives as Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot would have difficulty trying to find the culprit that killed the mammoths, mastodons and other megafauna that once roamed North America.

Scientists have been picking over the bones and evidence for more than three decades but can not agree on what caused the extinction of many of the continent's large mammals. Now, in two new papers, a University of Washington archaeologist disputes the so-called overkill hypothesis that pins the crime on the New World's first humans, calling it a "faith-based credo" that bows to Green politics.

"While the initial presentation of the overkill hypothesis was good and productive science, it has now become something more akin to a faith-based policy statement than to a scientific statement about the past," said Donald Grayson, a UW anthropology professor

Writing in the current issue of the Journal of World Prehistory and in a paper to be published in a forthcoming issue of the Bulletin of the Florida Museum of Natural History, Grayson said there are dangerous environmental implications of using overkill hypothesis as the basis for introducing exotic mammals into arid western North America."

He looks askance at the idea of introducing modern elephants, camels and other large herbivores into the southwest United States. "Overkill proponents have argued that these animals would still be around if people hadn't killed them and that ecological niches still exist for them. Those niches do not exist. Otherwise the herbivores would still be there."

If early humans didn't kill North America's megafauna, then what did? Grayson points to climate shifts, during the late Pleistocene epoch, which ended about 10,000 years ago, and subsequent changes in weather and plants as the likely culprits in the demise of North America's megafauna. The massive ice sheets that covered much of the Northern Hemisphere began retreatin
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Contact: Joel Schwarz
joels@u.washington.edu
206-543-2580
University of Washington
24-Oct-2001


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