For decades, scientists have debated over what killed off our huge ancient animals like mammoths and giant armadillos. The largest mammals ever to roam the Earth were all wiped out over the last 80,000 years, and were extinct by 10,000 years ago. There have been multiple explanations as to why.
Was climate change, an asteroid or comet, disease, or were human hunters to blame for their demise?
Scientists from the University of Exeter and Cambridge University have claimed that their research settles the prolonged debate, and their findings are not surprising. The researchers had a good hard look at the data, and detailed their conclusions in their paper that was published in the journal Ecography.
Lewis Bartlett, lead study author, said that by using cutting-edge statistical analysis, it had helped to solve the mystery almost beyond dispute, which concluded that man was the dominant force in wiping out the creatures, although climate change could also have played a lesser role.
Humans wiped out the mammoth and other prehistoric giants, say researchers:
The researchers ran thousands of scenarios mapping the time in which each species is known to have become extinct, and then doing the same when humans were known to have arrived on the different continents or islands. This was then compared against climate reconstructions for the last 90,000 years.
According to Science Daily, examining different regions of the world across these scenarios, they found coincidences of human spread and species extinction that illustrated man was the main agent causing the demise, with climate change exacerbating the number of extinctions. However, in certain regions of the world—mainly in Asia—they found patterns that were broadly unaccounted for by either of these two drivers, and called for renewed focus on these neglected areas for further study.
Bartlett said in an Exeter news release: “As far as we are concerned, this research is the nail in the coffin of this 50-year debate—humans were the dominant cause of the extinction of megafauna.”
“What we don’t know is what it was about these early settlers that caused this demise. Were they killing them for food, was it early use of fire, or were they driven out of their habitats? Our analysis doesn’t differentiate, but we can say that it was caused by human activity more than by climate change. It debunks the myth of early humans living in harmony with nature.”
Dr. Andrea Manica, of Cambridge University, was lead supervisor on the paper. He said: “Whilst our models explain very well the timing and extent of extinctions for most of the world, mainland Asia remains a mystery. According to the fossil record, that region suffered very low rates of extinctions. Understanding why mega-fauna in mainland Asia is so resilient is the next big question.”
I’m sure that this will still be debated for many years to come. What do you think? Was it humans that killed off these animals?