June 22, 2011

Earliest art of America may be mammoth engraving in Florida

[Updated Jun 23]

Science Daily reports of the finding of a bone with a mammoth engraving. It is believed to have an age of c. 13,000 BP because that is the approximate date of extinction of these animals in North America according to the fossil record. The unusual finding was recovered from Vero Beach, Florida:



Barbara Purdy et al., Earliest Art in the Americas: Incised Image of a Proboscidean on a Mineralized Extinct Animal Bone from Vero Beach, Florida. Journal of Archaeological Science, 2011. Pay per view.

[DOI is broken so link above is direct]

Abstract


A fragmented fossil bone incised with the figure of a proboscidean was recently found at Vero Beach, Florida near the location where Late Pleistocene fauna and human bones were recovered from 1913–1916. This engraving may represent the oldest and only existing example of Terminal Pleistocene art depicting a proboscidean in the Americas. Because of the uniqueness, rarity, and potential antiquity of this specimen, caution demanded that a variety of tests be used in anattempt to verify its authenticity. The mineralized bone was identified as mammoth, mastodon, or giant sloth. Rare earth element analysis was consistent with the fossil bone being ancient and originating at or near the Old Vero site (8-IR-9). Forensic analysis suggests the markings on the bone are not recent. Optical microscopy results show no discontinuity in coloration between the carved grooves and the surrounding material indicating that both surfaces aged simultaneously. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) revealed that the edges of the inscription are worn and show no signs of being incised recently or that the grooves were made with metal tools.In addition, the backscattered SEM images suggest there is no discontinuity in the distribution of light and heavy elements between the scribed region and the surrounding bone indicating that both surfaces aged in the same environment. This is very different from an intentional mark made on the bone for comparison. Energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (EDXS) shows that the surface contains significant amounts of calcium, phosphorus, oxygen, and carbon typical of a mineralized bone surface. Examination of a cast and mold of the incised bone by Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) also provided no evidence that the engraving was made recently. All of these results are consistent with the mammoth engraving being authentic.

I also found an available PDF (not sure how long it will stay open).

The bone itself may be one of a mammoth, though being mineralized (true fossil) we can't expect to get DNA nor C-14 dates:

It definitely derived from a much larger land mammal than any known to have been alive in Florida during the Precolumbian Holocene interval (e.g., bear, bison, deer), and the great thickness of the cortical bone precludes a cetacean origin. Because the bone is mineralized, it is improbable that it can be identified by DNA analysis or dated by 14C. This is usually the case for Late Pleistocene fossils from Florida (e.g., Hulbert et al. 2009).

48 comments:

  1. It was collected by an amateur fossil hunter, who held it for a long time, and then only found the engraving while cleaning it up.

    I really do not like amateur collectors sloppily handling priceless artifacts that belong to all of mankind. Anyhow, could this be a hoax, perhaps, on account of what I just pointed out about its discovery? By the way, Maju, why did you wonder about the date? Because they didn't clarify how they know it, or for another reason?

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  2. Bones are potentially datable by C14: they are organic materials.

    But sure: I have pondered if it could be a hoax or even a genuine European artifact moved across the ocean. Can't say.

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  3. Mammoths were present across much of North America when humans arrived, but that doesn't suggest one way or the other whether the carving is a fake or not.

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  4. My father taught at the University of Florida. The department is highly reputable.

    The entire peninsula is rich in Miocene-Pleistocene fossils and stone tools. Of course the stone age in Florida was just 500 years ago, so the stone tools are mainly recent. The entire state is an archeological site. Most of what has been preserved (and saved before the bulldozers went in) was found by amateurs

    More to the point, yes, humans hunted mammoths in Florida, even larger than the Eurasian ones. Unfortunately, the wet limestone caves of the region are not suitable for painting.

    Florida is also famous for the Windover bog, an ancient cemetery containing well preserved remains (including brains!) up to 8000 years old. The bog site is about 120 km north of where the bone was found, a casual stroll of a few days on the beach.

    As microscopic examination indicates the weathering of the carving matches the bone surface, I am satisfied that this is a carving done by an early Floridian who observed live mammoths.

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  5. Addendum: The putative date of the fossil seems to be based on the extinction date of Columbia mammoths. Of note numerous websites including wikipedia assert there have been mammoth specimens with much younger dates, but lack primary references.

    The Science News article linked says the carving might be of a mammoth or mastodon. I disagree with that. I have seen mounted skeletons of both unearthed in Florida, this is obviously a depiction of a Columbian mammoth from the long forelegs and domed head. This mammoth was not the wooly species of Eurasia and had a range extending into tropical Central America.

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  6. Journal of Archaeological Science

    Abstract
    A fragmented fossil bone incised with the figure of a proboscidean was recently found at Vero Beach, Florida near the location where Late Pleistocene fauna and human bones were recovered from 1913–1916.

    This engraving may represent the oldest and only existing example of Terminal Pleistocene art depicting a proboscidean in the Americas.

    Because of the uniqueness, rarity, and potential antiquity of this specimen, caution demanded that a variety of tests be used in anattempt to verify its authenticity. The mineralized bone was identified as mammoth, mastodon, or giant sloth.

    Rare earth element analysis was consistent with the fossil bone being ancient and originating at or near the Old Vero site (8-IR-9). Forensic analysis suggests the markings on the bone are not recent. Optical microscopy results show no discontinuity in coloration between the carved grooves and the surrounding material indicating that both surfaces aged simultaneously. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) revealed that the edges of the inscription are worn and show no signs of being incised recently or that the grooves were made with metal tools.

    In addition, the backscattered SEM images suggest there is no discontinuity in the distribution of light and heavy elements between the scribed region and the surrounding bone indicating that both surfaces aged in the same environment. This is very different from an intentional mark made on the bone for comparison.

    Energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (EDXS) shows that the surface contains significant amounts of calcium, phosphorus, oxygen, and carbon typical of a mineralized bone surface.

    Examination of a cast and mold of the incised bone by Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) also provided no evidence that the engraving was made recently. All of these results are consistent with the mammoth engraving being authentic.

    (rest is behind paywall)

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  7. Joy: thanks a lot for your informative comments. I have updated the original post inspired by them.

    Notice that the DOI link is broken (what's up with DOI? It happens a lot as of late) and that impeded me initially from finding the paper.

    However, forced to make a search, I stumbled on an open PDF copy of the paper (unsure for how long it will be available).

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  8. On the other side, while all that demonstrates that the engraving is genuine, it still falls short of demonstrating 100% that the engraving was done in America and not in Europe.

    I know it sounds like pushing things a lot but we must not forget that this is an "out of place" artifact (i.e. nothing like that was known in that context before) and these kind of stuff always rise methodical eyebrows.

    In this case there is, I'd say, at least a small possibility that the bone was picked by currents in SW Europe and brought to America through the millennia. I mean... Colombus landed not far away from Florida, right?

    Potentially it could even have traveled with antiquity collectors across the Ocean and somehow been lost near the coast.

    It is a reasonable possibility. And, until other such art is found, it'll be very difficult to dispel this shadow.

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  9. "On the other side, while all that demonstrates that the engraving is genuine, it still falls short of demonstrating 100% that the engraving was done in America and not in Europe."

    Except...
    ***Rare earth element analysis was consistent with the fossil bone being ancient and originating at or near the Old Vero site (8-IR-9).***

    There has been some amazing archeology done in Florida in the last two decades, driven by a new generation of scuba qualified researchers who are divers rather than diggers. Florida is actually full of ivory tool artifacts, they are just underwater. I expect more bone or ivory art to be brought to the surface in coming years.

    Not suggesting that anyone buy a 600 page academic hardback for their personal library, but every paleo department library should get a copy of this 2006 book:

    First Floridians and Last Mastodons: The Page-Ladson Site in the Aucilla River

    Amazon has a descriptive page. The early Floridians hunted paleo elephant species with as much zest as their distant cousins in Ukraine.

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  10. Also see the wikipedia page:

    Page-Ladson prehistory site

    "The earliest dates for artifacts recovered from the site are between 1,000 and 1,500 years before the advent of the Clovis culture ... Ivory spear points (often called "foreshafts") are found more frequently in the Aucilla River than everywhere else in North America combined."

    Paleo Florida was much larger and drier than modern Florida, a very different place.

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  11. Alright, Joy, very good defense of the finding, thanks. It does seem 100% genuine.

    "The early Floridians hunted paleo elephant species with as much zest as their distant cousins in Ukraine".

    Haha. I'm sure about that. The prove is that there's not one left in either country. XD

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  12. Thanks. And here is a link to a UF map of late pleistocene Florida (sorry I do not know how to make a small url):

    http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/LyraEDISServlet?command=getImageDetail&image_soid=FIGURE%206&document_soid=UW208&document_version=38105

    The Vero Beach site is now coastal, but at the time of the mammoth engraving it was at an elevation of circa 100 metres and 100 km inland from the Atlantic. The site is roughly midway between Cape Canaveral and Palm Beach.

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  13. FYI: to make a text-embedded URL do as follows:

    [a href=LINK ]TEXT[/a]

    But replace [...] by <...> (they are changed to allow you to see the code), and then of course the LINK for the URL address and the TEXT for whatever you want, for example "Paleoflorida".

    Result:

    Paleoflorida.

    :)

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  14. "I'm sure about that. The prove is that there's not one left in either country".

    You're not coming round to the idea that the hunting might have something to do with the fact that they're not found in either region today are you?

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  15. Due to hunting or otherwise, the development of civilization in North America was surely limited by the lack of domestic animals other than the dogs the first settlers brought from Asia. The Andean empires were greatly helped by the domestication of llamas and alpacas. But poor North America only got half the neolithic revolution, agriculture without animal husbandry.

    Paleo Florida was particularly rich in llamas as well as horses. Beyond that, it is even possible that the mammoths could have been domesticated - they are kin to the Asian elephant ... a road not taken.

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  16. It was a joke, Terry.

    I do not know if they were exterminated by hunting or other means. I'm of the opinion that various factors are at play, because in Ukraine, for example, mammoths co-existed with our species for many millennia and yet they went extinct +/- at the same time as in Florida.

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  17. "in Ukraine, for example, mammoths co-existed with our species for many millennia"

    Really? When did modern humans first venture out into the open spaces of the Ukraine? And were their mammoth-bone huts made from bones of recently extinct mammoths, or long extinct ones?

    "yet they went extinct +/- at the same time as in Florida".

    Wouldn't the technology that enabled modern humans to move out into the Ukraine also enable them to reach Beringia, and so America? So it is no surprise that the extinctions in the two regions coincide. This paper goes to great lengths to exonerate humans, but it does have some interesting comments:

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0012825204000406

    From the paper

    "Until ca. 12,000 radiocarbon years ago (BP), mammoths inhabited all of northern Asia, from the High Arctic to southern Siberia and northeastern China. Since ca. 12,000 BP, mammoth disappeared from major parts of Siberia and adjacent northern Asia, and survived mainly in the Arctic regions of Siberia, north of 69° northern latitude"

    Sounds like the same extinction event stretched into North America as well. Not surprising. Also:

    "However, recently, it was found that some mammoth populations continued to exist in central and southern Western Siberia until ca. 11,100–10,200 BP. ‘Normal’ size mammoths became extinct in mainland Siberia at the Pleistocene–Holocene boundary, ca. 9700 BP"

    Presumably thise regions were unoccupied by modern humans until then.

    "he role of humans in the process of mammoth extinction was of secondary importance"

    But the only 'evidence' is:

    "The lack of direct evidences of mammoth hunting limits the estimation of its role in Upper Palaeolithic human subsistence"


    The extinction was caused by:

    "by a combination of factors, such as global warming in the Late Glacial (since ca. 15,000 BP) and the disintegration of landscapes suitable for mammoths throughout the Upper Pleistocene, such as light forests with vast open spaces occupied by meadows and forest tundra. The expansion of forest vegetation after the Last Glacial Maximum in Siberia, including its northeastern part, created unsuitable habitats for herbivorous megafauna, especially for mammoths"

    But most of these changes are unlikely to have been unique to the period and mammoths had presumably withstood previous similar changes. They do at least have the decency to concede:

    "However, the Holocene environment of Wrangel Island was not of ‘glacial’ type and this requires further studies".

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  18. H. sapiens in Ukraine? At least 32 Ka. Probably more like 40 Ka ago, with Kostenki's "Aurignacoid".

    "Wouldn't the technology that enabled modern humans to move out into the Ukraine also enable them to reach Beringia, and so America? So it is no surprise that the extinctions in the two regions coincide".

    What's this nonsense? There's no evidence of H. sapiens in America before 15 Ka ago! You should know all that and, if you don't know you, should shut up - or at least be more modest and less arrogant.

    "Until ca. 12,000 radiocarbon years ago (BP), mammoths inhabited all of northern Asia"....

    We have discussed this already, and West Europe as well. It's clear that H. sapiens and mammoths lived side by side until the end of the Ice Age, when repeated sudden climate change was surely the main factor, if not the only one, driving them to extinction. Probably humans helped but they were not the only factor.

    "Presumably these regions were unoccupied by modern humans until then".

    Not at all: we have evidence of presence of H. sapiens in Central Siberia since at least 40 Ka. ago. You know that as well.

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  19. I think the dynamics of Homo/megafauna interaction were quite different between the old world and the new. (I include Oceania as part of the new world as it was never occupied by archaic Homo species)

    Ostriches survived Homo in Africa. But Moa fell incredibly rapidly to a small founding population of colonists in rugged, heavily forested New Zealand.

    Likewise, horses survived Homo in Asia, but vanished from North America in the blink of an eye, coincident with colonization by Homo.

    IMO, the old world megafauna had the advantage of co-evolution with several species of increasingly sophisticated Homo hunters over more than a megayear. The hapless new world megafauna were suddenly exposed to humans who had perfected big game hunting, but likely did not even recognize them as predators.

    Can one even imagine hunting wild horses on foot today without long range firearms? I doubt it could be done.

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  20. It is an interesting idea, Joy, however I find quite unbelievable that American horses were dumber than Eurasian ones. Horses are relatively intelligent animals that can learn quite a bit, they are not mere pre-programmed robots, so they should learn to recognize humans as predators as soon as the first interactions happened (horses also travel faster than humans can). I am certain that recognition of predators is not hardwired in horses but learned.

    Also some American megafauna (bisons notably) survived, when in Eurasia they went nearly extinct.

    I think that what we have is difference in size of continents: Eurasia is much larger than North America, and these are quite larger than Australia. The larger the landmass the greater the opportunities for sustainability and survival, everything else equal.

    We also have a period of sudden climate change at the end of the Pleistocene. In a previous discussion it was apparent that forest expansions pushed mammoths (and other grassland herbivores) to marginal areas. This alone might not have ended them but put them in a very vulnerable situation, where human hunt was surely the proverbial last straw.

    What I understand that this is a very different situation from that of the moa or in general island fauna because island populations of land-roaming animals are already very fragile for the only reason of being in an island, so almost anything can annihilate them like happened to the dodo. What is surprising is when they survive.

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  21. Of course forest expansion, while bad for mammoths and other grazers would have been all good for mastodons and other browsers.

    Interestingly, while Bison predate Homo in North America, they are also relatively recent Asian colonists. One of the more provocative recent hypotheses of the loss of the native North American megafauna is that the invasive Bison species were rapacious grazers AND browsers and pushed the native megafauna to the brink. Then Homo provided the coup de grâce.

    Bison of Doom

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  22. I doubt that mastodons (or almost any browser other than maybe goats) eats conifer leaves. And that's the kind of forest that would have expanded the most and the first over the former steppes. Also mastodons did not exist in Eurasia, right?

    Anyhow, there were probably an array of reasons all piling over each other and together on the backs of the fated species. Humans, bisons, climate change... all surely played a role.

    The bison idea is intriguing but there must have been a balance before the terminal Ice Age, when the extinctions happened. It was the breaking of this equilibrium what precipitated doom for some and eventually success for others as well (humans indeed but also bison, wolf, etc.)

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  23. "I doubt that mastodons (or almost any browser other than maybe goats) eats conifer leaves. And that's the kind of forest that would have expanded the most and the first over the former steppes."

    Actually, the dietary staple of mastodons was long thought to be spruce, a conifer, based on distribution on mastodons in spruce woodlands. Maybe so. But according to dung studies the dietary mainstay of the mastodons in Florida was cypress, a different conifer.

    A preserved mastodon was found in an Ohio peat bog in 1989, "the intestines contained a broad variety of vegetation, including swamp grass, leaves, moss, and seeds of sedges, waterlily and other wetland vegetation"

    Finally, phytolith studies from mastodon dental calculus found abundant grass phytoliths. There could be a preservation bias here as browsers prefer young, silica-poor leaves and shoots. But it does suggest that mastodons could graze when they had to. I believe the mastodon was an opportunistic herbivore. Maybe they just shunned grasslands to avoid aggressive mammoth herds?

    "Also mastodons did not exist in Eurasia, right?"

    AFAIK, no coexistence between Mastodon sp and hominids in Eurasia. Like elephants/mammoths, mastodons evolved "out of Africa". But all the Eurasian sp seem to have gone extinct before hominids came on the scene.

    On the other hand, all of the camelids and the modern genus Equus evolved in N. America and were confined there until the Pleistocene. Good that they escaped to Eurasia (and llamas to S. America) before they became extinct on their continent of origin.

    I am truly agnostic on the cause of some of the N. American extinctions, but will make a stand on one. Surely nothing other than predation by Homo could have done in the armored glyptodont!

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  24. "IMO, the old world megafauna had the advantage of co-evolution with several species of increasingly sophisticated Homo hunters over more than a megayear".

    I agree. Therefore the comment:

    "we have evidence of presence of H. sapiens in Central Siberia since at least 40 Ka. ago".

    Is irelevant. I seriously doubt that H. sapiens had 'inhabited all of northern Asia, from the High Arctic to southern Siberia and northeastern China' as far north as 'north of 69°' before 12,000 years ago.

    "What's this nonsense? There's no evidence of H. sapiens in America before 15 Ka ago!"

    And that is around the time that humans may have been able to reach the northern latitudes of Eurasia, and so emerge into America. It is surely more than mere coincidence that mammoths died out through the two regions at much the same time.

    "I find quite unbelievable that American horses were dumber than Eurasian ones".

    They weren't 'dumber', just didn't recognise humans as predators until too late.

    "Also some American megafauna (bisons notably) survived, when in Eurasia they went nearly extinct".

    The bison that survived in America was the plains bison (apart from some woodland species in the far north). A difficult animal to hunt without horses. The pronghorn antelope also survived in such an environment. The species that became extinct were presumably more adapted to a more diverse environment. The European bison would have come under pressure with the demise of woodland for agriculture.

    "The larger the landmass the greater the opportunities for sustainability and survival, everything else equal".

    That would be a factor, however extinctions are usually a function of the size of the species concerned.

    "In a previous discussion it was apparent that forest expansions pushed mammoths (and other grassland herbivores) to marginal areas".

    And the authors of the study ignored the very real possibility that the vegetation change was a product of the extinction rather than the cause.

    "We also have a period of sudden climate change at the end of the Pleistocene".

    Climate change is inadequate to explain simultaneous extinctions through a huge variety of habitat.

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  25. Alright. I did not expect that at all. Very few animals, much less mammals, feed on conifer leaves, which are typically rather toxic.

    "Maybe they just shunned grasslands to avoid aggressive mammoth herds?"

    Mammoths had very specialized trunks with two long slender "fingers" at the end, which was surely a specialization for grazing. I am not sure how was the trunk of mastodons but Indian elephants, which have only one "finger", must roll their whole trunk around grass to eat it, limiting the sizes they can exploit. African elephants have two "fingers" but they are not at all as long as those of the mammoth.

    So maybe more than aggressiveness, I'd think of specialization: mastodons would only be able to exploit grass when long (speculative but possible), while mammoths could exploit grass and lichens at almost any size.

    "Surely nothing other than predation by Homo could have done in the armored glyptodont!"

    I read that they ate grass... maybe the bisons killed them too? ;)

    Honestly, no idea.

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  26. The previous comment was a reply to Joy (Terry and I posted almost simultaneously). Otherwise, decontextualized it may be difficult to understand.

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  27. @Terry:

    "I seriously doubt that H. sapiens had 'inhabited all of northern Asia, from the High Arctic to southern Siberia and northeastern China' as far north as 'north of 69°' before 12,000 years ago".

    69 degrees is the Arctic! Who cares about those latitudes? Why do they matter at all?

    All the issue is about whether modern humans and mammoths shared the space and indeed they did... for tens of thousands of years.

    "And that is around the time that humans may have been able to reach the northern latitudes of Eurasia, and so emerge into America".

    So you think that H. sapiens reached Beringia only that late? Extremely shy your bet.

    I must disagree: the distribution of Y-DNA Q is consistent with older presence in North Siberia and Beringia. MtDNA patterns also seem consistent with a colonization of the North since maybe as early as c. 40 Ka ago. Maybe not yet the latitude of Beringia but Siberia in any case. Remember that most of Siberia was dry cold, not snowed.

    "It is surely more than mere coincidence that mammoths died out through the two regions at much the same time".

    It's surely no coincidence: there was a sudden global climate warming, then cooling and then warming again. You had to be quite sturdy and well established to survive that. Human for instance... or wolf... or bison...

    "They weren't 'dumber', just didn't recognise humans as predators until too late".

    What part of this didn't you understand?: I am saying that horses, zebras, donkeys... learn all those things: they are smart animals to a large extent. Once they were predated by humans or lions or whatever, the rest would have learned.

    "A difficult animal to hunt without horses".

    Horses are also a difficult animal to hunt without horses. But, as bisons, not impossible at all for human ingenuity. What's your point: horses and bisons look very similar in relation to humans, except that bisons are stronger and horses possibly smarter and faster.

    "Climate change is inadequate to explain simultaneous extinctions through a huge variety of habitat".

    I think it is pretty much adequate. It may not be the only factor but there's hardly anything as challenging and global as one such climate change.

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  28. "69 degrees is the Arctic! Who cares about those latitudes? Why do they matter at all?"

    Obviously the authors of the paper I quoted think it matters:

    ""Until ca. 12,000 radiocarbon years ago (BP), mammoths inhabited all of northern Asia, from the High Arctic to southern Siberia and northeastern China. Since ca. 12,000 BP, mammoth disappeared from major parts of Siberia and adjacent northern Asia, and survived mainly in the Arctic regions of Siberia, north of 69° northern latitude"

    So bison became extinct south of 69° before 12,000 years ago, but survived north of that, in the Arctic.

    "All the issue is about whether modern humans and mammoths shared the space and indeed they did... for tens of thousands of years".

    Certainly they didn't share the space in America for any length of time at all. Possibly so for much of northern Eurasia also.

    "the distribution of Y-DNA Q is consistent with older presence in North Siberia and Beringia. MtDNA patterns also seem consistent with a colonization of the North since maybe as early as c. 40 Ka ago"

    But possibly not is huge numbers. As population grows the pressure on resources grows as well. That is possibly the solution to the rapid extinction in America. As humans moved south their population was able to grow exponentially and so the pressure on their prey was correspondingly greater.

    "But, as bisons, not impossible at all for human ingenuity".

    And humans did hunt them, often by driving them onto cliff edges and stampeding them over the edge. Presumably the same system worked with horses.

    "I think it is pretty much adequate. It may not be the only factor but there's hardly anything as challenging and global as one such climate change".

    The climate change theory of extinction faces a huge problem. All the species that became extinct had survived similar earlier changes. Some had adapted by evolving into a slightly different species, but others had survived unchanged.

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  29. A bit off topic, but fascinating to me. There were two little known families of proboscideans that went extinct suspiciously around the time of human contact.

    The proboscideans are interesting to me in that like hominids they are OOA, large brained, long lived, and have a rich history of species diversity, only recently pruned down to the two (or three?) survivors.

    The so called "dwarf elephants" often depicted with the dwarf hominids of Flores island were not dwarf Asian elephants, not elephants at all. They were stegodons, an entirely different taxonomic family. At least that is the judgement of the fossil people at present.

    Also South America hosted gomphotheres, another whole family of proboscideans. Their remains are associated with paleo human sites including the famous pre-Clovis site at Monte Verde. But at least two species persisted well past the rise and fall of Clovis culture.

    Finally a recent nuclear DNA study demonstrates that mammoths and Asian elephants (now in different genera, but that might change) were as closely related as forest and savannah African elephants (now classed as same species, but that might change). There are divergence times with wide error bars, but the authors defer to the much better established fossil record dates. Mastodon DNA included as an outlier.

    Proboscidea DNA

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  30. The paper is not accessible (PPV), so I'm not sure where you take your quotes from (maybe you bought it?), but the Science Daily article (typically the press release unaltered) says:

    "Woolly mammoths retreated to northern Siberia 14,000 years ago whereas they had roamed and munched their way across many parts of Europe, including the UK, for most of the previous 100,000 years or more".

    So why did they survive in Europe, along Homo sapiens until those dates? Was the Magdalenian explosion too much for them? Or were the expanding forests? Th authors think that the latter:

    "The change from productive grasslands across large areas of northern Eurasia, Alaska and Yukon to less productive tundra-like habitats had a huge effect on many species, particularly on the large herbivores like the woolly rhinoceros and woolly mammoth. Mammoths and other mega-mammals found it increasingly difficult to find food.

    "We believe that the loss of food supplies from productive grasslands was the major contributing factor to the extinction of these mega-mammals."

    Btw, the link to the older Leherensuge entry seems broken above, it is this one.

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  31. The previous comment was primarily for Terry, as is this one.

    "But possibly not in huge numbers".

    Referring to the colonization of North Asia. I'd dare say that there are not "huge numbers" now either: it is one of the less hospitable habitats on Earth, only Antarctica is harder.

    "As population grows the pressure on resources grows as well".

    IMO the mtDNA star-like explosions in the are are from 50-40 Ka ago, contemporary with those in Europe.

    "And humans did hunt them, often by driving them onto cliff edges"...

    I won't say this did not happen but I believe it is more the Neanderthal style of hunt, right? In rock art representations and historical documentations of Native Americans, the usual hunt seems to be much more straightforward, direct: spearing down the prey.

    Semi-Neolithic Native Americans could do true massacres of bisons (hunting a pack only for their tongues and such) and their huge numbers did not seem to have been affected at all. Only systematic destructive hunt by white men with automatic riffles brought the bison to near extinction.

    So it seems really hard to imagine bison being brought to near-extinction only by Paleolithic or even Neolithic hunt. There must have been other factors at play.

    "The climate change theory of extinction faces a huge problem. All the species that became extinct had survived similar earlier changes".

    Yes, that seems to appeal for either other extra factors (like human pressure) and/or a careful analysis of the climate change process, which was at least in this case quite abrupt (and double).

    While these species only went extinct with the arrival of Holocene, other species had gone extinct before. The case of the Eurasian mastodon has already been mentioned but there are many more no doubt. And in those cases human beings were not involved for sure.

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  32. @Joy: Again expanding our knwoledge, thanks.

    AFAIK the extinction of stegodons in Flores is not related to the arrival of modern humans: they survived until c. 12 Ka., same as Flores hominins, what implies that we could share the environment with them at least for some time - even in an island.

    While there is no direct evidence, there is absolutely no reason to believe that H. sapiens did not step in Flores more or less at the same time as other islands in the area and the small continent of Australasia. That is at least 50 Ka., based on Papua's data. Probably much earlier.

    It is also interesting to see that, at least for some time H. sapiens and those rare South American proboscideans could share the land.

    Of course one element we must consider is that H. sapiens is able of an extremely wide range of behaviors and economies, so it's possible that if "we" played a role in these extinctions, what is plausible, it may be less related to what we are than to what we do.

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  33. Excellent comments, Joy, you've removed all doubts. I liked how the scientists overkilled in their attempt to ensure it was not a fake (as they should have). But moving on, don't you think that the existence this relic, while of course in no way definitive, is evidence in favor of coexistence between humans and mammoths/mastodons? As opposed to humans barging into America and immediately causing the extinction of everybody.

    Ostriches survived Homo in Africa. But Moa fell incredibly rapidly

    A better comparison would be with emus of Australia, ostrich-like animals, which are still alive.

    Likewise, horses survived Homo in Asia, but vanished from North America in the blink of an eye, coincident with colonization by Homo.

    Do American horses disappear from the fossil record before mammoths, camels, saber-toothed tigers, etc.?

    I think people tend to forget that South America was inhabited by elephants, rhinoceros-like herbivores, glyptodonts, giant ground sloths, and that's just a sampling. Just something to keep in mind when concentrating on the arctic big fauna and why they became extinct.

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  34. Surely nothing other than predation by Homo could have done in the armored glyptodont!

    How I would like to have been able to see that animal still alive. That one was most prominent in South America, where there existed, until 10,000 years ago, at least 1 species that was the size of an elephant. But I think that one didn't have the medieval spiked-tail whip, that was only found in the smaller species which weighted a few hundred kilograms.

    While these species only went extinct with the arrival of Holocene, other species had gone extinct before. The case of the Eurasian mastodon has already been mentioned but there are many more no doubt.

    But probably in those previous cases the species surrendered the ecological niche to a better adapted species, while the truly strange thing about the mass extinctions of 10000 years ago is that the ecological niches, for the first time in tens of millions of years, went vacant, and remained so ever since.

    AFAIK the extinction of stegodons in Flores is not related to the arrival of modern humans: they survived until c. 12 Ka., same as Flores hominins, what implies that we could share the environment with them at least for some time - even in an island.

    Very good point. Even better then the South American mammals, because we still don't know if humans reached South America barely 14,000 years ago, but the Flores elephant doesn't suffer age or climate ifs and buts. Solid argument for long term coexistence between humans and all those giant mammals. By the way, apparently there was a big, excuse me, giant, excuse me, gargantuan (!) land tortoise in India that went extinct barely 10000 years ago. I kid you not. We don't have a complete skeleton, but what we do have is good enough to gauge the size of the thing. I'll bet it was the Asian equivalent (niche-wise) of the American glyptodont. Talk about coexistence! A slow, giant turtle was able to coexist with humans in India for 50,000 years.

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  35. "A better comparison would be with emus of Australia, ostrich-like animals, which are still alive".

    Or ñandús (Rhea sp.) in South America. They are still alive too.

    "A slow, giant turtle was able to coexist with humans in India for 50,000 years".

    Go figure!

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  36. Re Flores: I really don't have a good idea about the habitation history of that island. I know the assumption would be that H sapiens would have settled on the way to Australia. But, I am not aware of any H. sapiens remains from the island dated to be contemporary with the stegodons and H floresiensis (or should that be A floresiensis?) My point being that 40k yr coexistence between two hominid species and stegodons on a small island seems doubtful. All I know for sure is that floresiensis and stegodons had a very long stable coexistence. Until I hear it falsified, my hypothesis is that for whatever reason, H sapiens didn't settle Flores until 12k yr bp, then quickly replaced H floresiensis, and eliminated stegodons.

    Paleo South America is relatively little discussed in the Northern hemisphere, but is really fascinating. The gomphothere species were not rare, and were widely distributed, along with other wonderful vanished megafauna on that large, diverse continent. Climate change was not such a big factor as in the north, and the megafauna did survive Homo contact for several thousand years longer than in the north. So maybe it is true that the endemic N. American megafauna were going through a cyclic bottleneck due to the interglacial, and also coping with assimilating an invasive species, and Homo was the last straw.

    So many things to be learned from the south. Most interesting discovery in S America in my lifetime was the finding that the entire Amazon basin was a densely settled agricultural region in 1491, before the nearly complete die off from smallpox. For most of the 20th century the common assumption was that the Amazon forest was primeval, never civilized. Now we know that not only is much of it regrowth, but even the distribution of tree species has been heavily modified by human activity.

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  37. "Until I hear it falsified, my hypothesis is that for whatever reason, H sapiens didn't settle Flores until 12k yr bp, then quickly replaced H floresiensis, and eliminated stegodons".

    It seems unlikely to me. We have very limited archaeological evidence from all Eastern Eurasia (because of lack of research interest/seriousness?). The earliest clear evidence of anatomically modern people in all Indonesia is from c. 8000 BP... excepting Timor (and of course Sahul), see here.

    It is extremely unlikely that this is all the story. Toalean surely means the arrival of farming, not the arrival of people, which must have been all around since at least c. 50 or more (maybe as many as 70) Ka ago.

    A LOT of research remains to be done. The case of Timor, where many rock art sites have been discovered in the last few years is encouraging.

    "Most interesting discovery in S America in my lifetime was the finding that the entire Amazon basin was a densely settled agricultural region in 1491"...

    The entire basin? I doubt there is evidence for that claim, I know that there are several areas that seem to have hosted rather dense populations but that's about it. It is not clear why they declined either, attributing their fall to smallpox seems nonsense to me because neither of the earliest explorers, Orellana or Aguirre, reported any such thing, a few years/decades after the first Europeans had arrived to South America.

    The first exploration of Orellana happened only 10 years after the conquest of the Inca Empire (1531). There was no time (nor contact) for any bacterial shock and Orellana reports no civilization, even if he liked to exaggerate.

    The forest agricultural societies, surely vanished before the arrival of the Europeans, much like happened with the Maya civilization, for reasons of their own (possibly unsustainable practices). Some of them are recollected in Andean legends, I understand.

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  38. "Was the Magdalenian explosion too much for them?"

    That would be my suspicion.

    "Or were the expanding forests? Th authors think that the latter"

    But two problems arise. which came first, the expanding forests of the megafauna extinction? And weren't some members of the megafauna adapted to browsing anyway?

    "IMO the mtDNA star-like explosions in the are are from 50-40 Ka ago, contemporary with those in Europe".

    I doubt that the population of Europe expanded as long ago as that. Wasn't the Gravettian the main expansion there? Or even the epi-Paleoloithic?

    "So it seems really hard to imagine bison being brought to near-extinction only by Paleolithic or even Neolithic hunt".

    The bison survived the early hunting quite well. As you say, it was only the hunting with rifles that led to their (almost) demise.

    "And in those cases human beings were not involved for sure".

    Obviously humans have not been involved in the vast number of extinction events, but those ancient extinctions (apart from about 5) are nowhere near as widespread or as selective as the Holocene extinctions.

    "@Joy: Again expanding our knwoledge, thanks"

    Yes, very interesting.

    "That is at least 50 Ka., based on Papua's data".

    You've mentioned that date before, and I'm sure you've provided evidence, but I can't recall the link. Could you please refresh our memory? Just because people had made it to Australia it doesn't automatically follow that they had also made it to New Guinea.

    "It is also interesting to see that, at least for some time H. sapiens and those rare South American proboscideans could share the land".

    I very much doubt that extinction is always instantaneous, although the more recent ones are almost so.

    "it may be less related to what we are than to what we do".

    To me that sums things up very well. Hunting alone has never caused extinction, as far as I'm aware.

    "Do American horses disappear from the fossil record before mammoths, camels, saber-toothed tigers, etc.?"

    I understand that all disappeared around the same time.

    "I think people tend to forget that South America was inhabited by elephants, rhinoceros-like herbivores, glyptodonts, giant ground sloths, and that's just a sampling. Just something to keep in mind when concentrating on the arctic big fauna and why they became extinct".

    which is yet more evidence against climate being to blame.

    "gargantuan (!) land tortoise in India that went extinct barely 10000 years ago".

    such tortoises were widespread, including on many islands. They survive today on the Galapagos, but humans have only recently arrived there.

    "A slow, giant turtle was able to coexist with humans in India for 50,000 years".

    We don't really know how widespread the human population of India has been through the ancient past. Perhaps some regions were occupied just 10,000 years ago.

    "I know the assumption would be that H sapiens would have settled on the way to Australia. But, I am not aware of any H. sapiens remains from the island dated to be contemporary with the stegodons and H floresiensis"

    H. sapiens may have bypassed ythe already-occupied island as they moved along the island chain to Timor.

    "Climate change was not such a big factor as in the north, and the megafauna did survive Homo contact for several thousand years longer than in the north".

    The idea seems to be that species are better able to survive human presence if they live in forest, the denser the better. That may be the explanation for longer survival in S America.

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  39. There must be a number of convergent factors, Terry. But one thing that ties them all seems to be the final Pleistocene abrupt climate changes (forth and back and then forth again in few millennia), which was global, the same as all these megafauna extinctions.

    "Wasn't the Gravettian the main expansion there? Or even the epi-Paleoloithic?"

    No. According to the data I manage the population between the Aurignacian and the Solutrean was roughly the same, only very slightly (and irregularly) increasing. And roughly the same as that of previous occupants: the Neanderthals. It was only in the Magdalenian when the population really boomed, growth that was probably sustained in the Epipaleolithic but not specific of this late period.

    So we have two expansions of H. sapiens in Europe prior to Neolithic: the first colonization (which by definition was an expansion) and that it's normally associated to Aurignacian, arguably also including Proto-Aurignacian and Bohunician. All this makes this expansion 44-39 Ka ago, being specially intense anyhow c 40-39 Ka ago (Aurignacian boom in the Franco-Cantabrian region).

    The second expansion was the Magdalenian boom, which implies flows from the Franco-Cantabrian region to Central Europe and later also to Iberia, two Epipaleolithic "aftershocks" and the Hamburgian-derived Nordic epiphenomenon.

    "I can't recall the link"...

    Do the search function and the archive and the yearly compilation post not work? Or does someone thinks we are his servants?

    It's as simple as make a search with the keyword "Papua", and voilá:

    http://forwhattheywereweare.blogspot.com/2010/10/evidence-for-new-guinea-settlement.html

    And please again, try to avoid the long one-liner (decontextualized quote-short reply, often repetitive or pointless) posts because they are not a proper way to keep a conversation.

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  40. Maju, re: the Amazon, I admit to a sweeping generalization. But the more people look, the more they find. Settlement was not just riverine. A good update from Science Daily last October: Pre-Columbian Amazon

    Also, in some cases, Euro diseases preceded Euro contact. The Incas suffered a large epidemic with 50% die off, and resulting civil war, the year before Pizarro arrived.

    Anyway, my point is that S. America is understudied both in its natural history and its human prehistory, and much of what has been found has been under reported.

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  41. I can't judge the extension of the Amazon rainforest "civilizations" (I do not know enough) but what I can judge and very negatively is the happy bacterial shock claims.

    50%?! It makes no sense. Even the Black Death did not kill a fraction of that even in the most affected areas (30% the most).

    I think such claims are generally based on anecdotal "evidence" and wishful thinking of the hypochondriac type.

    The fact is that all the high density agricultural areas of that time are still mostly native today. Even in spite of Modern colonization with modern technologies, and in spite of brutal exploitation by the colonists.

    People is much sturdier than we give them credit for.

    "Anyway, my point is that S. America is understudied both in its natural history and its human prehistory, and much of what has been found has been under reported".

    I can agree with that.

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  42. Viral illnesses have had well documented devastating impacts on isolated populations in the past century. The 1918 Influenza pandemic killed 30% of adult men in Western (New Zealand) Samoa. A recent Norwegian study of isolated Arctic communities had even more dire findings:

    "analyses for isolated communities, such as in Labrador, Canada, and Alaska, USA, showed that mortality for all adults over 30 years was very high, and up to 90-100 per cent.
    "Data from church records for Okak, Hebron, and Brevig also supported the historical anecdotes about the high mortality in these isolated communities," said Mamelund.
    The study also shows that it was mainly people belonging to indigenous populations who died in the worst affected areas."

    Influenza Pandemic

    There is a link to the original paper at the foot of the article.

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  43. Joy, my belief was that the Amazon agriculture was in a very specific part, not the entire jungle. It was in north Bolivia, a big piece of land, but just 5% to 10% of the Amazon. Last year I looked at the mtdna of Bolivians precisely because of this. Incas and Quechuas, the people of the mountains of Bolivia who were the Inca Empire, have an unusually high frequency of mtdna B, if I remember right. Really stands out, like 50% B, while the rest of South Americans have the normal pattern of A/B/C/D seen also in North America. What I found was that north Bolivians (yes, there are tests of them), a lowland, tropical, and if not for humans very jungly, do NOT have that unusually high frequency of B. That argued against a demic diffusion in the case of the Andean "Neolithic" (not sure if the term 'Neolithic' is West Asian specific). In other words, the lowland people adopted the agricultural practices of the highland Quechuas and Aymaras, instead of being their descendants.

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  44. What I found was that north Bolivians (yes, there are tests of them), a lowland, tropical, and if not for humans very jungly

    What I found was that north Bolivians (yes, there are tests of them), who live in a lowland, tropical, and if not for humans very jungly region

    Damn...

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  45. "By the way, apparently there was a big, excuse me, giant, excuse me, gargantuan (!) land tortoise in India that went extinct barely 10000 years ago. I kid you not. We don't have a complete skeleton, but what we do have is good enough to gauge the size of the thing".

    Do you have evidence for the 10,000 year date? I searched for over an hour last night and all I found was plenty of giant tortoses in Indian Ocean islands but the only mainland giant tortoise was an Upper Miocene date for Colossochelys atlas from the Siwalik hills.

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  46. @Argiedude: actually all what I have read since we began discussing this matter is in the Xingu river basin, Southern Pará, and also in the island of Marajao, at the coast. I know that Andean legends talked of civilizations just right by them at the rainforest but I could not find anything archaeological now about them.

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  47. @Argiedude: actually all what I have read since we began discussing this matter is in the Xingu river basin, Southern Pará, and also in the island of Marajao, at the coast.

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  48. Fumbled response, trying again...

    terryt, you're probably right, I was going by memory from a long time back.

    Maju, I could've sworn there was something concrete about agricultural civilization in the north lowlands of Bolivia. strange.

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