Re: Large animal extinctions caused by early man

9 Jul 1996 00:10:34 -0400

Returning to this ng after a long absence reminded me why I left.

Did early hunters exterminate mega fauna in America?
What no one is saying is: Did the ancestors of the modern Native
Americans wipe out the game? Political correctness and Rouseauian
romanticism aside, the answer is "Yes." At least in part.
Climatic change must sped the demise of some species but does not
account for the dissappearance of horse and camel.
African-Asian wildlife species DID coevolve with hunters.
Attrition "teachest" their genes to fear hunters. Only the wildest strains
American wildlife resembled modern Galapagos Island fauna. There,
frigate birds ignore tourists wandering through their colony, blue footed
boobies perform their mating dance at a biologists feet, yellow warblers
land on an extended arm.
(Evolving toward skitishness, saved African species. It did not make
them superior or more highly evolved. Skitishness is an energy-wasting
disadvantage in a land without predators).
The Americas did have predators, but none like the hunters bursting
on the scene in the closing days of the last Ice Age.
To characterize these people as small bands of scrawney, naked,
pathetic creatures with points mounted on sticks, is sheer ignorance.
They were us. Homo Sapiens. They were as bright as the
contributors to this ng and a whole lot tougher. They had spent thousands
of years evolving the technology needed to invade Siberia and the
Berringium Reffugium. Reaching the heart of this continent, world's best
hunters met wildlife as tame as farm animals.
They killed by driving herds off cliffs, into boggy ground, into snow
drifts or up dead-end arroyos. They could do what other predators could
not do -- communicate and plan. No great cat or bear ever spent three
days slowly moving a herd of mammoths into a dead-end canyon to be killed
at leisure. Planning and speech allowed one "naked pathetic" hunter to
spell another in a chase that exhausted the prey. Killing a mammoth
does not take awesome teeth or fearsome claws or even great stature.
Pygmies are Africa's elephant-killing specialists.
Second, the notion that there were a tiny number of these hunters
is equally uninformed. The Pitcairn Equation demonstrates that in only a
few centuries (a
blink of an eye in this context) a hundred paleolithic people would
multiply to fill both
North and South America to a density of 1 person per square mile. The
of meso American agriculture affirms this population explosion. The
Great American kill-fest ended quickly and hunters turned to farming.
As some have suggested, animals do not have to be killed and eaten
be driven to extinction by humans. Pre-horse era bison drives killed
hundreds of
animals and left most to rot. (Merriwether Lewis witnessed "mountains of
waste" as late as 1804).
Market hunters of the last century doomed passenger pigeons, not by
killing them all, but by disrupting their breeding for a few years. There
were tens of thousands left when it became unprofitable to hunt them but
the biological clock had run out on the species.
It would take little hunter harrassment disrupt the breeding of the
mammoth, a beast that probably bore young once in five or six years.
One likely villain has been overlooked. Hunters were not the only
Old World invaders. Old World fauna rediscovered America. These animals
brought new diseases. Some may have been as lethal to American wildlife
as measles were to Polynesia in later centuries.
(Likewise, diseases spread by Texas cattle pushed north may have
killed more plains bison than the hid hunters blaimed for the shaggy
beast's demise).
As for Timo's great comet theory,... it's possible. It's also
possible that Martians ve
rounded up the mega fauna, canned it and shipped it home as Spam.
Finally, anyone unfamiliar with the Pitcarin Equation should look it
up. They might also check out Occam's Razor.

Roger Clawson

Roger Clawson
Billings, Mt.