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CONTENTS of 1,000,000 BC- 8,001 BC: The peopling of the prehistoric Americas and the extinctions of the American megafauna

This page last updated on or about 10-13-05
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11,000 BC: Many large animals of both North and South America are suddenly driven to extinction by the wave of Asians pouring out of the northwestern Yukon, as well as other peoples...

...those American animals which are now going extinct include the mammoths, saber tooth tigers, horses, and dire wolves.

The speed by which this wave of humanity explodes across both North and South America may be indicated by the rapid mass extinctions of the megafauna of both continents.

Although Beringia continues to be dry, allowing a constant feed of new peoples from Asia, and a large buildup of population in the northwestern Yukon likely preceded this latest wave, still that doesn't seem sufficient to explain the rapid expansion across both continents now.

And clues point to existing South American human populations being pretty small by comparison. Too small to contribute much to this sudden population explosion across two continents.

No, there must be more than one fountainhead of humanity flooding the Americas during this time. At least one other must exist-- and it may be feeding into both North and South America simultaneously. There's scant information available on this point as of mid-2000 AD, but my guess is it's Eurasians for the most part. Coming into both North America and South America, via channels other than Beringia. Some clues to this may be that central and south americans picked up traces of asian disease and DNA around 18,000 BC, while the DNA of Amerinds appears to have gotten an infusion of european peoples around 10,000 BC-8,000 BC.

The northern routes for the Europeans may not be that much different from what Beringia is for the Asians. But the southern routes require ocean crossings. They're not as daunting as the Pacific crossings were for the Australians, but still they are significant challenges.

By 18,000 BC- 12,500 BC people were apparently living in the vicinity of South Carolina USA.

-- Bonanza of ice-age artifacts redefine America's pre-history July 2, 1999, Marsha Walton contributing, CNN

Solutrean Europeans may be crossing the Atlantic Ocean to North America from the Iberian Peninsula (the 20th century's Spain, Portugal, and France) around 16,000 BC, colonizing the eastern seaboard. In the millennia to come this group may expand to meet and overlap with the other groups arriving via the Bering land bridge and Pacific Ocean crossings.

Such Atlantic crossings might be made in skin boats, and require as little as three weeks to make.

-- First Americans from Europe? By Joseph B. Verrengia The Associated Press SANTA FE, N.M., Nov. 1, 1999, ABC News Internet Ventures, http://www.abcnews.go.com/

North America's eastern seacoast may have been settled by people (Solutreans) from the Iberian Peninsula of Europe (Portugal, Spain, southern France) around 16,000 BC. Elements of their culture may have then expanded into western America, as well as Canada and South America. The Solutreans may have been the first actual members of the Clovis culture to arrive in the Americas.

-- New View of 1st Americans Emerges, Discovery Online, Discovery News Brief/Associated Press, http://www.discovery.com/, found on or about 11-1-99

South America received an influx of peoples from Asia around 18,000 BC, according to viruses contained in South American mummies. The viruses are related to adult T-cell leukaemia. Some living peoples of the 1999 AD Caribbean also show infection by these same virii.

-- Viral clue to American settlers, Sci/Tech, BBC news, http://www.bbc.co.uk/, 29 November, 1999

Boats were being used in Japan around 18,000 BC.

-- The Diffusionists Have Landed by Marc K. Stengel, The Atlantic Monthly, J A N U A R Y 2 0 0 0, http://www.theatlantic.com

Until around 18,000 BC/16,000 BC, the most significant migration routes in terms of human beings entering North America from Beringia seemed to exist along the western coastlines. After that the center of migration gravity seems to shift to inland routes, taking people to the center and eastern coasts of North America.

Note that the dangerous large megafauna predators of North America may have strongly encouraged many migrating peoples to stick to the coastlines (and boats) until as late as 11,000 BC-10,000 BC.

Global sea level during the last global glacial maximum was 300-400 feet lower than 2000 AD. About 18,000 BC inland passages from Alaska into the lower latitudes of North America were highly arduous-- while various coastal routes would have been less challenging and dangerous. Therefore it would seem the earlier migrations followed the coasts down the continent.

There may have been several different migrations down the coast prior to around 18,000 BC-- with more groups taking an inland route after that.

-- Americas Populated in Spurts ["http://www.discovery.com/news/briefs/20000222/history_bering.html"] By Becky Oskin, Discovery.com News, Feb. 22, 2000

Most of these groups likely fight most often against their own kinsmen rather than strangers, early on-- partly due to the plentiful 'elbow room' on the continent at the time. Otherwise the megafauna would likely survive longer, protected by significant territorial buffer zones between the larger warring factions.

But once the megafauna are gone, and all the factions have effectively divided up the Americas among themselves-- that is when the tribal consolidation begins. The wars of this time may decimate the newly native populations by way of new diseases from their differing origins about the Earth, as well as the effect of much improved weaponry and tactics stemming from the mounting competition among the groups.

If these early native Americans suffer as terribly from foreign disease during this time as their posterity will millennia later when the post-Columbus Europeans invade, then perhaps as much as 30 to 50% of everyone living in the Americas dies of disease now or soon. As there may be multiple serious disease vectors converging now compared to mainly just the one of European origin later, the American death toll of this time may even be substantially higher than 50%.

And such converging disease vectors could have contributed to the extinctions of the American mega-fauna as well.

-- Why Are There So Many of Us? Description and Diagnosis of a Planetary Ecopathological Process by Warren M. Hern, University of Colorado, Why Are There So Many of Us? (http://www.drhern.com/fulltext/why/paper.html) ["http://www.drhern.com/fulltext/why/paper.html"], found on or about 1-17-2000

Note that a rising tide of war among the American tribes could push the total numbers of dead still higher for the period. Bear in mind a whole new and potent technology applicable to survival, hunting, and military uses might be only now coming into mainstream use in the Americas, due to the relative isolation of the Americas from the rest of the world up to this time: the domesticated wolf, or dog.

Elsewhere on-site I write about the possibility of 'wolf-wars' breaking out worldwide with the advent of domesticated wolves, as wolf-empowered tribes decimate wolfless tribes so thoroughly that eventually no human tribe of significant size or near proximity to others can afford not to include such domesticated animals among their resources.

It may just be that such 'wolf-wars' came late to the Americas, being as how the two continents were among the last to be substantially populated by humanity, and the very earliest treks into the continents may have precluded bringing wolves or dogs, or else severely limited their numbers, for a variety of reasons. Plus, the larger and conceivably more vicious wolves of the americas apparently were not nearly as easily domesticated as those of Eurasia, based on the genetic analysis of modern dog origins.

So it may well be that a fairly rapid escalation in war enabling technologies in the Americas occured around this time, which included the deployment of significant numbers of domesticated wolves/dogs, primarily of Eurasian stock. This too could have added much to the death toll in the Americas, leading me personally to be unsurprised if someday we realize that the native American population around this time was slashed by as much as 70-95%(!)

But as of mid-2000 AD little will be known of these circumstances.

Based on population estimates given in another item below for the Americas in the aftermath of this period, I estimate that the total native population of the Americas prior to this devastation may have been as much as 600,000, with some 400,000 or more of this being in North and Central America alone. Such a number also seems more consistent with possibly contributing to the megafauna extinctions, than the much, much smaller numbers of less than 30,000-- maybe far less-- for both continents combined, that it seems many researchers expect to be the case for this period. It's just difficult for me to imagine that a number of people roughly the same as lives just in my native rural county today, spread out over the whole of both the vast North and South American continents, could be responsible for making much of a dent in animal numbers.

And while we're on the subject of those megafauna extinctions...

Later 20th century North Americans would be astonished and terrified by the sight of the megafauna existing on the continent prior to the mass extinctions. Condors possessing 16-foot wingspans flew the skies. Pigs similar to antelopes moved swiftly across the landscape. Camels, horses, bison, and llamas grazed on the various environments offered by the continent. Hippopotamus-sized ground sloths chewed on the trees. Eight kinds of big cats similar to but sometimes larger than the African lions of 1999 AD prowled the land. Gargantuan bears, wolves, and armadillos were also present.

-- Biodiversity and Conservation: A Hypertext Book ["http://darwin.bio.uci.edu/~sustain/bio65/Titlpage.htm#Table of contents"] by Peter J. Bryant

The "megafauna" of this period seem to fall prey to a combination of new diseases brought in by human populations and increased predation by same (who may be equipped with improved weapons and tactics, compared to what they previously wielded against the animals). If this is the case, it would seem to imply a substantial increase in human populations in the New World over this time, as compared to before (in order to get the big increase in human-animal interaction implied by the infection and increased predation).

Note that the Americas are undergoing significant climate changes during this time as well, which could also play a part in the extinctions.

-- "Gone But Not Forgotten: Bring Back North American Elephants" by Melanie Lenart, http://www.sciencedaily.com//releases/1999/06/990607154315.htm, 6/10/99, ScienceDaily Magazine

-- "Early Human Activity In Australia May Have Led To Animal Extinctions", 1-7-99, University of Colorado at Boulder

-- Resurrecting a Mammoth By Angela Swafford, Special to ABCNEWS.com, 9-17-99, http://www.abcnews.go.com/

Since no such large extinctions have been detected prior to this time, it seems that the Australians already present in South America for millennia now were either too few to decimate animal populations, and/or simply less injurious to those populations via their way of life. It may also be that the Australians mostly kept to the western coasts of South America, having little to do with the vast eastern expanse beyond the mountains, for thousands of years. Note that the starting populations for the Australians in the New World were tiny due to their arrival upon boats across the Pacific, rather than the accomodating land bridge to the north. Too, there may have been very few women onboard the Australian boats, further reducing their reproductive potential. Lastly, the rising sea levels of previous millennia may have further weakened their transplanted culture-- making them very vulnerable to invaders, as well as incapable of much affecting the animal populations of South America.

-- `Eco-noble savages' who never were: Prehistory contains many examples of people driving animal species to extinction, explains James Steele, British Archaeology, no 12, March 1996: Features, British Archaeology homepage

It may be that the Australian-Americans themselves are also being wiped out and/or subjugated at this time, along with the Megafauna...

-- "Aborigines were the first Americans" By Sarah Toyne, August 22 1999, THE SUNDAY TIMES: FOREIGN NEWS ["http://www.sunday-times.co.uk/news/pages/sti/99/08/22/stifgnusa02003.html?99"], Times Newspapers Ltd.

However, central and eastern South America may not be wholly unpopulated. Small numbers of Europeans and Africans likely dot the landscape there. Perhaps even a handful of intrepid Australians may live there too. But again, their total numbers are likely too low to affect animal populations.

Note that the giant predators which go extinct now may do so primarily because of their megafauna prey (herbivores) being snuffed out via over-hunting by humanity.

-- Biodiversity and Conservation: A Hypertext Book ["http://darwin.bio.uci.edu/~sustain/bio65/Titlpage.htm#Table of contents"] by Peter J. Bryant

The giant beaver also goes extinct in North America around this time.

-- Pleistocene Extinctions ["http://www.uiowa.edu/~anthro/webcourse/naarch/extinct.html"]

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