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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Humans not to blame for ice age mass extinction - Alok Jha, Science correspondent

A rare good-news story for those concerned about the impact humans have had on the Earth: the mysterious mass extinction of large mammals at the end of the last ice age was not the fault of our marauding species as previously thought. New research concludes that the disappearance of mammoths and wild horses in the Americas more than 10,000 years ago is likely to have been the result of natural shifts in the Earth's climate.
 
Dale Guthrie, of the institute of Arctic biology at the University of Alaska, conducted a radiocarbon dating experiment on more than 600 fossilised bones of mammoths, horses and other large mammals from Alaska and the Yukon Territory to test the three proposed explanations for the mass extinction. These are that disease wiped out the animals; over-hunting of mammoths by humans led to a shift in the local environment, reducing the grasslands and inadvertently killing off other species; and the "blitzkrieg" idea, which imagines newly arrived human hunters devastating large mammals, driving mammoths and horses to extinction and forcing bison and wapiti - a type of deer - into reduced habitats.
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