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Moas, Men, and Middens

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Moas, Men, and Middens

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... My problem with the reasoning is that I find it unlikely that prehistoric Moa-hunters killed tens of thousands of Moas as quickly as did the cullers of African elephants, 3,000 every 3 months; the archeological record in New Zealand may not indicate slaughter on this rapid and intense a scale. Large accumulations of Moa bones in midden deposits were once common sites in New Zealand (see Trotter and McCulloch 1984). However, many Moa sites contain the remains of relatively small numbers of individual Moas, not massive piles of large numbers of birds (Kooyman 1990). ...
... The Moa bonesites may not be comparable in location, MNI, or in many other characteristics with the Clovis mammoth sites. In fact, many Moa sites appear to be re-used habitation sites (not killsites) that contain several different species of Moa (Anderson 1984; Kooyman 1990; some of the 19th century literature is cited in Trotter and McCulloch 1984), suggesting several different episodes of hunting. Earth ovens, midden deposits also containing eggshells, and artifacts occur associated with the Moa bones. ...
... Hieraaetus moorei was first described as an active predator [18], but Haast himself later noted that its beak exhibited vulturine features [19], as have more recent authors [3,20] who also observed vulture-like similarities in beak shape, based on two-dimensional morphometrics, as well as the presence of bone scrolls around the nostrils. Through much of the twentieth century, the argument that it was largely a carrion feeder was widely held [21]. However, most of the more recent studies have supported the predator hypothesis [22][23][24]. ...
Article
The extinct Haast's eagle or harpagornis ( Hieraaetus moorei ) is the largest known eagle. Historically, it was first considered a predator, then a scavenger, but most recent authors have favoured an active hunting ecology. However, the veracity of proposed similarities to carrion feeders has not been thoroughly tested. To infer feeding capability and behaviour in harpagornis, we used geometric morphometric and finite-element analyses to assess the shape and biomechanical strength of its neurocranium, beak and talons in comparison to five extant scavenging and predatory birds. The neurocranium of harpagornis is vulture-like in shape whereas its beak is eagle-like. The mechanical performance of harpagornis is closer to extant eagles under biting loads but is closest to the Andean condor ( Vultur gryphus ) under extrinsic loads simulating prey capture and killing. The talons, however, are eagle-like and even for a bird of its size, able to withstand extremely high loads. Results are consistent with the proposition that, unlike living eagles, harpagornis habitually killed prey larger than itself, then applied feeding methods typical of vultures to feed on the large carcasses. Decoupling of the relationship between neurocranium and beak shape may have been linked to rapid evolution.
... In New Zealand, there was an equally spectacular fauna of a dozen species of moas, large terrestrial birds up to three metres tall, plus the gigantic Haast's eagle Harpagornis moorei. All these huge animals went extinct as recently as between 900 and 500 years ago (Trotter and McCulloch, 1984). ...
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As Alfred Russell Wallace once wrote, we live in a zoologically impoverished world, from which most of the largest, strangest and most spectacular animals disappeared quite recently. About two thirds of all animal species larger than 50 kg (the so-called megafauna) were extinct from the late Pleistocene onwards, starting in Australia at about fifty thousand years ago and following humans' footsteps is their expansion throughout Eurasia and the Americas. The extinctions went on through the Holocene, reaching islands all around the globe, that can be seen as 'time machines' where megafauna survived for millennia after the continental extinctions, such as the Caribbean, the islands off Alaska, and Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean. In Madagascar and New Zealand, extinctions are but a few centuries old. These late Quaternary extinctions were a global phenomenon that begs for a global explanation. Climatic hypotheses fail to explain these patterns for several reasons, for example, there were dozens of other glacial cycles throughout the Pleistocene, without associated mass extinctions; extinctions in Australia and the islands did not coincide with glacial peaks; and climate changes cannot explain why extinctions were systematically more recent on islands. However, the pieces of the puzzle immediately fit together when we observe the clear correspondence between the dates of humans' arrival and of megafaunal extinction in each landmass. Bernardo Araujo recently analysed the chronology of extinctions of megafaunal genera around the world. He found that extinctions took place closer than expected by chance to periods of high climatic variation alone in only two of the analysed cases, to dates of human arrival alone in seventy-four cases, and to both in eight cases, with 40 cases unexplained. Thus, anthropogenic impact is the most plausible and parsimonious main cause of the late Quaternary extinctions. In a modern view, the extinctions were a long process that took several millennia to occur in most continents, with a few stragglers like the Irish elk and the North American mastodons. Low reproductive potential was the main determinant of the extinct species; the apparent selection by size is an artefact of the inverse correlation between the two variables. The absence of evolved instincts against newly arrived humans, the difficulty of conserving meat and the lack of perception of the world's finitude must have contributed to the outcome. Thus, human-megafauna interactions are an important and undervalued part of human history that merits being represented on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Furthermore, learning from the extinctions of the past is crucial to allow us to minimise extinctions in the future. Candidate sites in the Americas might include those that show consumption of megafauna (such as Monte Verde), remarkable rock paintings (such as Serra da Capivara, Brazil) and the latest American megafauna (such as Las Breas de San Felipe, Cuba).
... This model explains the light extinctions in Africa and Asia where modern humankind "grew up," allowing gradual adaptation to humankind's accumulating proficiency as a superpredator; it explains the abrupt massive losses in Australia and the Americas-the only habitable continents that were colonized suddenly by advanced stone-aged humans. But the control cases for Martin's "experiment" are the large oceanic islands such as Madagascar and New Zealand; both were colonized within the last 1000 years, and both suffered a wave of extinctions at this time (Dewar 1984;Trotter and McCulloch 1984;Anderson 1989). 9 One wonders, if extinction was due to climatic change, why Madagascar extinctions were not coincident with those of Africa 220 miles off its coast, and those of Australia were not coincident with New Zealand extinctions; and why European and Ukrainian mammoths became extinct 13,000 years B.P. while in North America they survived another 2000 years. ...
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This essay is about who we were in prehistory and how we were shaped by economic principles.
... Modelling sea cow extinction also highlights the catastrophic impact of wastefulness when overexploiting resources mistakenly perceived as 'infinite'. Similar short-term intensive slaughter with abundant wastage also characterizes historical overexploitation of other extinct species, such as the passenger pigeon (Schorger 1955), and exploitation by Polynesian settlers of New Zealand's moa, the only extinct megafaunal species for which extensive archaeological information on human hunting is available (Trotter & McCulloch 1984;Holdaway & Jacomb 2000). Wasteful hunting practices may therefore constitute a general model for 1 7 4 4 1 7 4 5 1 7 4 6 1 7 4 7 1 7 4 8 1 7 4 9 1 7 5 0 1 7 5 1 1 7 5 2 1 7 5 3 1 7 5 4 1 7 5 5 1 7 5 6 1 7 5 7 1 7 5 8 1 7 5 9 1 7 6 0 1 7 6 1 1 7 6 2 killed and consumed immediately killed for immediate consumption but wasted killed and carried on board as provisions killed for provisions but wasted prehistoric human exploitation of vertebrate resources, as well as remaining a pervasive problem in marine and terrestrial systems today. ...
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Steller's sea cow, a giant sirenian discovered in 1741 and extinct by 1768, is one of the few megafaunal mammal species to have died out during the historical period. The species is traditionally considered to have been exterminated by 'blitzkrieg'-style direct overharvesting for food, but it has also been proposed that its extinction resulted from a sea urchin population explosion triggered by extirpation of local sea otter populations that eliminated the shallow-water kelps on which sea cows fed. Hunting records from eighteenth century Russian expeditions to the Commander Islands, in conjunction with life-history data extrapolated from dugongs, permit modelling of sea cow extinction dynamics. Sea cows were massively and wastefully overexploited, being hunted at over seven times the sustainable limit, and suggesting that the initial Bering Island sea cow population must have been higher than suggested by previous researchers to allow the species to survive even until 1768. Environmental changes caused by sea otter declines are unlikely to have contributed to this extinction event. This indicates that megafaunal extinctions can be effected by small bands of hunters using pre-industrial technologies, and highlights the catastrophic impact of wastefulness when overexploiting resources mistakenly perceived as 'infinite'.
Article
This paper presents preliminary radiocarbon results of snapper bone gelatin from the Archaic occupation at Houhora, Northland, New Zealand. It is part of a larger investigation into dating snapper (Pagrus auratus) and barracouta (Thyrsites atun) bone from New Zealand archaeological sites (Petchey 1998). A range of analytical techniques are applied and it is concluded that the Houhora snapper bone is suitable for radiocarbon dating as the bone is well-preserved with low levels of contamination. Four bone gelatin 14C determinations of snapper are compared to determinations of other materials from the same context, including three previously unpublished results of shell and charcoal. The results suggest that snapper bone gelatin has a minimal inbuilt age, a reservoir effect which is comparable to shell, and will yield reliable 14C determinations when collagen degradation and contamination is minimal. A total of twelve acceptable radiocarbon results places the Archaic occupation at Houhora during the early to mid 14th century AD.
Article
As in the rest of Polynesia, human colonization of New Zealand marked the beginning of tremendous change for the native flora and fauna resulting in significant habitat destruction and numerous extinctions. The loss of numerous native vertebrates, especially economically impor-tant taxa such as moas and seals, must have greatly affected the foraging economy of southern New Zealand. The effect that declining abundances of native fauna had on subsistence can be understood through the use of foraging theory models. The prey choice model, in particular, can be used to examine how foragers choose the resources they exploit. From this model we can predict changes in the diet that occur with the loss of important resources. In this paper, I explore the use of diversity indices as one means of measuring these dietary changes. Richness and evenness measures of the faunal data from the Shag River Mouth site are used to evaluate predictions made by the prey choice model about changing diet breadth and foraging efficiency.
Article
The study of bones from archaeological sites in Eastern Polynesia has revealed much late Holocene extinction of birds. Because this extinction has been found in all Eastern Polynesian archipelagos where bird bones are part of the archaeological record (Marquesas, Society, Pitcairn, and Cook island groups), similar levels of extinction are likely to be found in other Eastern Polynesian island groups (Line, Tuamotu, Gambier, Austral, Easter), if the evidence is sought. Human impact is the most plausible explanation for these extinctions, which begin immediately after peopling of the islands about 2000 years ago and diminish only after the avifaunas are largely depleted.
Article
Megaloceros giganteus, the largest Eurasian deer, inhabited Ireland from ca. 12,000 yr B.P. to the time of its extinction ca. 10,600 yr B.P. The archaeologic record documents that people arrived on the island no earlier than 9000 yr B.P., so they could not have caused the extinction in Ireland. Close stratigraphic association of the geologically youngest elk fossils with sediments indicating the onset of the Nahanagan Stadial (approximately = Younger Dryas) implicates climatic change as the exterminator. Palynologic data support the idea that extinction probably resulted when forage quantity and quality along with length of the spring green-up decreased during the Nahanagan Stadial. For M. giganteus, this meant that the energy intake required to sustain large bodies, grow enormous antlers, and build fat reserves for winter was increasingly difficult to maintain, until deaths, primarily by winterkill, outnumbered births.
Article
The prehistoric extinction of moas (Dinornithiformes) in New Zealand was caused in some way by the first arrival of people about 1000 bp. Overkill is the preferred hypothesis and two aspects of it are considered in this paper: the structure of the radiocarbon chronology and quantification of over-exploitation of moa populations. Moa-hunting occupied the same time span on each main island and peaked at about the same point, c. 650 bp. Initial settlement was coastally dispersed and there is no evidence of explosive radial expansion of an extinction front. Modelling of moa and human population sizes, and culling and consumption levels, indicates that substantially more moas must have been killed than is apparent in the archaeological evidence to satisfy the requirements of an overkill explanation of extinction. Overkill remains the most probable explanation of extinction but it cannot yet be demonstrated.
Article
The ‘mass extinctions’ at the end of the Pleistocene were unique, both in the Pleistocene and earlier in the geological record, in that the species lost were nearly all large terrestrial mammals. Although a global phenomenon, late Pleistocene extinctions were most severe in North America, South America and Australia, and moderate in northern Eurasia (Europe plus Soviet Asia). In Africa, where nearly all of the late Pleistocene ‘megafauna’ survives to the present day, losses were slight. Ruling out epidemic disease or cosmic catastrophe, the contending hypotheses to explain late Pleistocene extinctions are: (a) failure to adapt to climatic/environmental change; and (b) extermination by human hunters (‘prehistoric overkill’). This review focuses on extinctions in northern Eurasia (mainly Europe) in comparison with North America. In addition to reviewing the faunal evidence, the highly relevant environmental and archaeological backgrounds are summarized. The latest survival dates of extinct species are estimated from stratigraphic occurrences of fossil remains, radiocarbon dates, or association with archaeological industries. The Middle and Upper Pleistocene (ca. 700000–10000 BP) in northern Eurasia and North America was a time of constantly changing climate, ranging from phases of extensive glaciation in cold stages, to temperate periods (interglacials). In the Lateglacial (ca. 15000–10000 BP), during which most extinctions occurred, there was a major reorganization of vegetation, mainly involving the replacement of open vegetation by forests. These changes were more profound than earlier in the Last Cold Stage, but similar in nature to vegetational changes that took place at previous cold stage/ interglacial transitions. The archaeological record shows that humans have been present in Europe since the early Middle Pleistocene. The arrival in Europe ca. 35000 BP of ‘anatomically modern humans’, with their technologically more advanced upper palaeolithic industries, was a ‘quantum leap’ in human history. Extinctions occurred throughout the European Pleistocene, but until the late Pleistocene most losses were replaced by the evolution or immigration of new species, and most of those lost without replacement were small mammals. In marked contrast, extinctions without replacement in the late Pleistocene were almost entirely confined to the largest mammals (> 1000 kg) and some medium-large species (100–1000 kg). Late Pleistocene extinctions in northern Eurasia were not synchronized, but occurred in two broad phases: (a) ‘interglacial survivors’, e.g. Palaeoloxodon antiquus, which retreated to southern Europe prior to their disappearance before ca. 30000 BP, i.e. before the main glaciation; and (b) cold-adapted species (e.g. Mammuthusprimigenius; Megaloceros giganteus) that disappeared in the Lateglacial, at various times between ca. 14000 and 10000 BP. Even within a species, populations became extinct earlier in some areas than in others, e.g. the possible survival of M. primigenius in north-central Siberia ca. 2000 years later than in Europe. In North America many more species were lost than in northern Eurasia, including many medium-large mammals in addition to the largest forms. At least for the commoner species, extinctions apparently all occurred within a much narrower time span, ca. 10500–11 500 BP, probably much less. Any extinction hypothesis must explain why losses in North America were severe and sudden, whereas those in northern Eurasia were moderate and staggered. The close correlation of North American extinctions with the arrival of Clovis hunters south of the ice sheets ca. 11 500 BP is consistent with overkill. However, there is no such correlation for northern Eurasia, where most extinctions also occurred in the Lateglacial, more than 20000 years after the appearance of upper palaeolithic humans. Although Lateglacial climatic/environmental changes correlate with extinctions in North America and northern Eurasia, the climatic hypothesis neither explains why extinction patterns were so different in the two regions, nor why similar losses did not take place at previous cold stage/interglacial transitions. From the evidence reviewed here, human predation at times of major climatic/ environmental change is suggested as the most probable cause of late Pleistocene extinctions. In northern Eurasia overkill became possible only when large-mammal distributions, and thus populations, were already severely reduced by such changes. Similar extinctions did not occur earlier in the Pleistocene because ‘anatomically modern humans’ with upper palaeolithic hunting technologies were not present. In North America the main reason that losses were severe and sudden is probably the close coincidence of Lateglacial climatic/environmental changes with the arrival of Clovis hunters. The necessity for amassing a much greater body of accurate faunal, environmental and archaeological data relevant to this intriguing question is emphasized. In particular, many more high-quality radiocarbon dates are required to determine the late Pleistocene history of extinct taxa in considerably more detail.
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