Forensic scientists have found direct evidence that Paleo-Americans killed mastodons and mammoths in the eastern United States. Residues of the blood of large extinct animals were found on spearheads and stone tools used by people who lived in the Carolinas thousands of years ago. This discovery raises questions about the extent to which Paleo-Americans were involved in the extinction of Ice Age megafauna.
Exploring the Role of Paleo-Americans in the Extinction of Megafauna
The earliest humans who lived in North America shared the landscape with huge animals. On any given day, these hunter-gatherers might have encountered a giant, snarling saber-toothed cat ready to leap, or a group of elephant-like mammoths stripping branches from trees. Maybe a herd of giant bison will rush past.
One of the main interests of archaeologists has been to understand how the earliest Paleo-Americans lived and interacted with megafauna species. How much did humans have to do with the extinction of these Ice Age animals? The new study used a forensic technique, which is more commonly used to detect blood on objects at crime scenes, to investigate this question.
Testing stone implements
Archaeologists have discovered few stone implements left in the camps of Paleo-American hunter-gatherers Chlodwig, who lived at a time of megafauna extinction. These include cultic Clovis spearheads with their characteristic cannelures – concave areas left by distant stone flakes that extend from the base to the middle of the tip. People most likely made the tips in such a way that they could be easily attached to the spearhead.
Based on excavations in the western United States, archaeologists know that the Paleo-American hunter-gatherers of Hlodwig, who lived around the time of the extinction, at least sometimes killed Ice Age megafauna, such as mammoths. There they found preserved bones of megafauna along with stone implements used to kill and butcher these animals. These sites are crucial for understanding the possible role that early Paleo-Americans played in the extinction.
Unfortunately, many areas in the southeastern United States lack sites with preserved bones and associated stone implements that could indicate whether Chlodwig or other Paleoamerican cultures hunted megafauna there. Without evidence of preserved megafaunal bones, archaeologists have to find other ways to explore this question.
Why did the megafauna of the Ice Age go extinct?
Scientists have pointed to various potential causes for the extinction of megafauna. Some suggest that changes in the environment occurred faster than the animals could adapt to them. Others suggest a catastrophic impact of a fragmented comet. Maybe it was overhunting by humans, or a combination of all these factors.
Historical evidence shows that Paleo-Americans hunted Ice Age megafauna. However, it is unclear how widespread this was and how much of an impact it had on the extinction of these animals. Some scientists suggest that Paleoamerican hunting may have been one factor, but not the main one.
Michael Watkinson, professor of archaeology at the University of Kentucky, says, “This is evidence that Paleo-Americans hunted megafauna, but that doesn’t mean they were the sole cause of the extinction of these animals. We have to look at all the possible factors that may have influenced the extinction of Ice Age megafauna.”
Interesting facts about Ice Age megafauna
– Mammoths were the most common species of Ice Age megafauna.
– Saber-toothed cats could reach a length of up to 1.5 meters and weigh about 400 kg.
– Giant bison were taller and broader than ordinary bison and weighed up to 2 tons.
– Sloths could reach a length of up to 6 meters and weigh up to 4 tons.