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236 pages, Hardcover
First published November 13, 2018
This book is filled with colorfully-rendered artist’s representations of history’s “megafauna,” which generally refer to the large or giant animals in a given era, habitat, or geological period, whether the animals are extinct or extant. It is usually applied to animals that weighed over one hundred pounds.
So what happened to them? Experts have not reached consensus as to the cause of these mass extinctions. Their fate is the subject here.
Author Ross D.E. MacPhee reports that each of the generally accepted hypotheses as to what caused the megafaunal disappearance are all problematic. Each popular theory is by turns discussed and dismissed. A comet or other space invader? Nope; no crater. Overhunting by humans? Extremely unlikely, as there is a complete absence of archaeological evidence to support this theory. An ice-age or a global warming event? No. Among other things, diverse parts of earth were impacted differently.
The author believes that the most likely reason for the die-offs and extinction events are human-related and were caused by the unwitting introduction by humans of pathogens unknown in a given habitat. The theory is that early humans carried disease-causing organisms across the earth during the African diaspora. This type of pathogen, when introduced into previously-unexposed populations, can cause deadly pandemics on a global scale.
This theory provides a plausible explanation for the disappearances. But what evidence does the author believe indicates that humans were ultimately responsible? Simply this: the fact that remnant megafaunal populations existed on islands so remote that humans never reached them until recent recorded history. The most jarring evidence of this is the fact that mammoths are proven to have survived on Alaska’s remote Wrangel Island until 2500 BCE, which postdates by many thousands of years the die-off of the rest of the species. For the sake of perspective, this means that the Great Pyramids of Egypt were already ancient before the last surviving mammoths on Wrangel Island died!
My rating: 7/10, finished 3/4/22 (3625).