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Re: Australia - Fire From Humans Caused Extinctions

Subject: Re: Australia - Fire From Humans Caused Extinctions
From: "rmacfarl"
Date: 15 Jul 2005 00:58:02 -0700
Newsgroups: sci.anthropology.paleo

richardparker01@xxxxxxxxx wrote:
...
> As for the thylacines (I've no idea what sarcophyllus was)

The Tasmanian devil...

> then if it
> took 4000 years from the arrival of the dingos to wipe them out (the
> thylacines may be still there) then that's a very slow extinction in
> our terms.
>
> But it's not at all in pre-historical terms, where the statistical
> error spread on a single date could be at least +/- 4000 years
>
> We wiped out the big ones - if we didn't slaughter every one of them,
> then we certainly messed up the system so much that they couldn't
> survive.

Yes. The point which works in favour of the blitzkrieg or Future Eaters
hypothesis a.k.a. Tim Flannery is that where we have well-documented
recent intrusions by humans onto previously pristine island
environments, including Madagascar & most of the islands of the
Pacific, there is very well-attested evidence of disastrous
consequences for the indigenous fauna.

It's fair enough to postulate that similar effects occurred in
Australia 50KYA or so ago, but it's also reasonable to question whether
the early arrivers would have had the ability - perhaps the technology
- to have a similar impact, especially when initially entering
Australia on a limited scale in a localised area of what is a bloody
big bit of terra firma.

I simply don't have the intimate knowledge to know how good the dating
of Cuddie Springs is, but it is a long way from the only site where
diprotodonts, giant kangaroos, or other of Australia's lost megafauna
have been found that's dated to well after the well-documented early
human arrival dates. Even in the Future Eaters, Tim Flannery refers to
a site that's dated to less than 20KYA - in other words, nearer in time
to the present day than the date of first arrival.

So I doubt that humans were pivotal in Australian megafauna extinctions
- but they undoubtedly were in New Zealand & Madagascar. As to North
America, I'm unsure. Even if you accept around 16KYA as an arrival date
- which I think is Meadowcroft's dating - the evidence points to them
playing a role in megafauna extinction at around 11KYA. But clearly, so
does climate change, given that's the end of the Ice Age.

I must say I don't buy a 40KYA colonisation of the Americas a la the
putative footprint trail that's getting an airing in another thread at
the moment. There would have to be a lot more evidence of long-term
presence across a wide area, instead of a few controversial sites that
are dated above 20KYA. 

But what would I know?

Ross Macfarlane


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