Did humans cause the mass extinction of megafauna during the Late Pleistocene period?

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Importance of question for archeological research:


It's hard to say that humans haven't had an impact on their environment. Climate change, for example, has been a hot issue in the developed world ever since evidence proving the existence of human-caused global warming was unleashed leading to an onslaught of theories regarding its potential effect on our future. But what impact did humans have thousands of years ago when they were first colonizing North America?

The question of what caused the extinction of megafauna during the Late Pleistocene period is one that archaeologists have struggled to answer for decades, but why should it matter? Discovering with certainty the cause of megafaunal extinction would simultaneously prove or disprove any of the proposed implications of each existing theory regarding this massive extinction.

In order to better understand these "implications," it is necessary to define and explain the major theories regarding North American megafaunal extinction. The two most widely supported theories are those of environmental change and overkill. Two theories finding less support within the field are those of hyperdisease and "keystone herbivores."

Theories and Proposed Implications

Paul Martin, the most famous and frequently cited proponent of the most popular North American overkill or "blitzkrieg" theory proposes the following ideas: 1) the disappearance of megafauna followed within 1,000 years the proposed first introduction of man into North America (Martin P. S. 969). 2) Kill sites are nonexistent for the majority of extinct megafauna because the prey was so ill equipped to deal with the Clovis hunters that they did not have to be tricked or trapped and disappeared s...

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...he Keystone Megaherbivore theory uses evidence from extant African large herbivores to suggest that the loss of a (352

Owen-Wilson suggests that wile megaherbivores are not particularly prone to disturbance by predators or the weather, their populations tend to grow up until the point of nutritional deficiency which curiously leads to other vegetation components being trampled or broken by the trampling of megaherbivores (Owen-Smith 355). Sometimes, such damage can actually lead to the creation of different landscapes that provide a "higher biomass of accessible forage" (Owen-Smith 355). However, not all land lends to this kind of lucky damage and megaherbivores can also severely decrease the biomass of accessible forage. In fact, whether or not the megaherbivore will help or hinder is largely dependent on the water resources in the trampled areas (Owen-Smith 356).

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