The image of the peaceful native Americans living harmoniously with nature has had a hold on the western imagination for hundreds of years. The trouble is, it’s wrong.New analysis of a 13,000 year old mastodon bone and the arrowhead stuck in it appears to prove that the first human inhabitants of North America were not only here much earlier than the old scientific consensus held; it implicates these early arrivals in the mysterious mass extinctions of Pleistocene mammals that had previously been largely blamed on climate change. From the BBC:
Not just mastodons, but woolly mammoths, sabre-toothed cats, giant sloths, camels, and teratorns (predatory birds with a nearly four-metre wingspan) – all disappeared in short order a little over 12,700 years ago.A rapidly changing climate in North America is assumed to have played a key role – as is the sophisticated stone-tool weaponry used by the Clovis hunters. But the fact that there are also humans with effective bone and antler killing technologies present in North America deeper in time suggests the hunting pressure on these animals may have been even greater than previously thought.
I am on balance glad that there are no predatory birds with twelve foot wingspans circling the playgrounds of North America today and my interest is piqued by reports of rapid climate change severe enough to be credibly implicated in mass extinctions. Unless the campfires and barbecue pits of the late Stone Age generated a great deal more carbon that I would have thought possible, this seems to show that earth’s ‘modern’ climate is pretty unstable — even in the absence of human activity.And if early humans rather than climate change were largely responsible for the ecological devastation, that suggests that nature can adapt to rapid climate change much better than many greens seem to believe. Less extreme measures to deal with greenhouse gasses plus working with nature to reduce the costs could look a little more workable thanks to this fresh analysis of an ancient bone tool.