Dr Ken Tankersley
- Anthropologist, Northern Kentucky University
- Dr Kenneth B Tankersley gives his view on the megafaunal extinctions of the Americas.
For more than two decades, Ken Tankersley has investigated the roles that people and climate played in the extinction of megafauna at the end of the last ice age. The search for clues has led him around the world, to the tops of mountains, across deserts and great plains, and deep into the most remote recesses of underground caverns.
"I've excavated deeply buried, well-dated sites containing the skeletal remains of now extinct animals, such as the short-faced bear, giant beaver, and flat-headed peccary, as well as human artefacts such as stone and bone tools and weapons.
"Data from these sites suggests that the ice age ended within the span of a single human life, within a period of 50 years when the climate was extremely unstable and rapidly and profoundly changing. Not every animal had the same tolerance to climatic change, so some were more vulnerable to human predation than others. Other animals, such as turtles and amphibians, were unaffected and still others such as the jaguar, pine marten, and water rat moved north, south, east, or west. Bison became smaller in size, but most of the mega-mammals, such as mammoths and mastodons could neither adapt nor move. They were hunted and became extinct.
"The examination of artefacts from the end of the ice age shows that changes in human technology were equally abrupt. The disappearance of mega-mammals coincides with a significant change in weaponry and human livelihood from specialised hunting to more generalised hunting and gathering.
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