Pleistocene - Grayson07

Pleistocene - Grayson07 - D ECIPHERINGN ORTH A MERICAN E...

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DECIPHERING NORTH AMERICAN PLEISTOCENE EXTINCTIONS Donald K. Grayson Department of Anthropology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195 Ernail : grayson@u.washington.edu KEy woRDS: Climate change; Eurasia; North America; Overkill; Pleistocene extinctions The cJebata over the ccruse of' lVorth American Pleistttcene ertinctions may be fttrther .from resolution than it has ever been in its 200-year history and is certainly more heated than it has ever been before. Here, I suggest that the redson .for this mat, lie in the fact that paleontologists have not heeded one of the key biogeographic concepts that they themselves helped trt establish: that histoties of assemblages of species can be understood only be deciphering the historl' of each individual species v,ithin that assemblage. This.failure seems to result.from assumptions frst macle about the nature of the l,{orth American extinctittns during the 1960s. Tupng tS IROBABLY NO ARCIHAEOLOGIST, PALEONIOLOGIST' oR ECOLOGIS1whO iS nOt aware of the debate that rages over the causes of the massive extinctions that occurred in Norlh America toward the end of the Pleistocene. Were they, as some claim, caused entirely by human predation? Or were they, as others argue, caused entirely by clirpate change or, as still others suspect, by some combination of these and/or other factors? This debate has its roots in the late eighteenth century but appears further fiom resolution it did more than a century ago (Grayson re83,1984). I have long participated in this debate, but my goal here is not to take sides (see Grayson 2001, 2006b and Grayson and Meltzer 2002,2003 for recent side- taking). Instead, I wili argue that the debate is not likely to be solved unless we take to heart, and act on, one ofthe prime lessons taught us by historic biogeography during the past 50 years: that understanding the histories ofassemblages ofspecies requires the history ofeach ofthose species to be analyzed on its own. The benefits ofthis approach are clearly shown by contrasts betrveen our understanding ofthe Nofih American losses and the roughly comparable extinctions that took place in Eurasia. The former remain unexplained, but there is only muted debate over the causes ol the latter. Recent advances in understanding Eurasian extinctions provide a research guide for extracting ourselves from the explanatory morass that now characterizes the North American situation. Journal of Anthropological Research, vol. 63' 2007 Copyright iO by The University of New Mexico 185
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This note was uploaded on 10/22/2010 for the course ASB 326 taught by Professor Falconer during the Fall '08 term at ASU.

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Pleistocene - Grayson07 - D ECIPHERINGN ORTH A MERICAN E...

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