It was previously theorized that humans were involved with the extinction of woolly mammoths but a new study has contradicted that, suggesting that their demise was likely caused by extremely cold temperature drops.
The new study, which was conducted by German researchers, claimed that North America’s megafauna (woolly mammoths, giant beavers, large ground-dwelling sloths, armadillo-like “glyptodons”, etc...) were driven to extinction because of near-glacial climate change. The researchers analyzed the population of these animals based on radiocarbon records and noticed that their numbers increased during a warming period about 14,700 years ago but drastically declined during a very cold period around 12,900 years ago.
Their radiocarbon record was able to determine the animals’ population by figuring out how much dateable carbon they left which can be measured in their fossils as well as archaeological records. After their populations declined during the cold weather shift, their extinctions occurred not long after.
It has been long believed that human overhunting caused these animals to become extinct but many experts have claimed that there isn’t enough proof to confirm that “overkill” was the direct cause.
Mathew Stewart, who is one of the authors of the study, explained, “A common approach has been to try to determine the timing of megafauna extinctions and to see how they align with human arrival in the Americas or some climatic event.” “However, extinction is a process — meaning that it unfolds over some span of time.” “So to understand what caused the demise of North America's megafauna, it's crucial that we understand how their populations fluctuated in the lead up to extinction.”
While it does make sense that the drastic cold temperature change could have caused their extinction, the experts have noted that there is probably much more to the story that has yet to be uncovered.
Huw Groucutt, who is another author of the study, said, “We must consider the ecological changes associated with these climate changes at both a continental and regional scale if we want to have a proper understanding of what drove these extinctions,” adding, “Humans also aren't completely off the hook, as it remains possible that they played a more nuanced role in the megafauna extinctions than simple overkill models suggest.”
This is a very interesting and plausible theory, but the story is far from over as the mystery behind the woolly mammoth and other megafauna extinctions continues...
Their study was published in the journal Nature Communications where it can be read in full.