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Stratum plus. 2013. №1

V. V. Pitulko (Saint Petersburg, Russia)

Еx Ungue Leonem Cognoscimus (comment on A. M. Burovsky and P. V. Putshkov “Pleistocene megafauna extinctions and their consequences: human driven or ‘pure natural’ process?”)




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Pages: 269-280


Pleistocene extinctions are usually thought to be caused by natural tropho-climatic factors (past environmental changes), although there are alternative views (virus attack, extra-terrestrial impact, geochemical stress). The major alternative concept is the Pleistocene ‘overkill’ hypothesis. This comment represents a critical response to Burovsky and Putshkov’s paper in this volume, where they argue in favor of the ‘overkill’ hypothesis. On the basis of the data on herbivore population dynamics in Eurasia and North America and that of resource management, it is demonstrated that the Upper Palaeolithic humans were incapable of causing any substantial harm to stable megafauna populations. It is shown that most of both the historical extinctions and recent ones were driven by commercial use of wild animal populations, or their extermination in favor of domesticated competitors (American steppe bison case). Thus, the decline of the landscapes necessary for the survival of various animal species caused by environmental changes remains the main global factor behind the Pleistocene extinctions. They were driven mostly by natural changes. At the same time, human contribution to this process should not be neglected. The ‘last straw hypothesis was formulated by Nikolskiy, Sulerzhitsky and Pitulko on the basis of the study of the mammoth population dynamics within the Arctic Siberia for past 50,000 years. When dealing with the depressed or refugia populations, humans might have played a role of the ‘last straw, which led to complete extinction. Thus, human contribution to the Pleistocene extinctions looks irrefutable, but it was not the crucial factor.


Keywords: Pleistocene extinctions, Pleistocene, megafauna, mammoth, (Blitzkrieg) overkill hypothesis, global climatic process, Last straw hypothesis


Information about author:

Vladimir Pitulko
(Saint Petersburg, Russia). Candidate of Historical Sciences. Institute for the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Dvortsovaya Nab., 18, Saint Petersburg, 191186, Russia
E-mail: [email protected]

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