Science & Technology

The Case of the Disappearing Mastodons

Illustration: Barry Roal Carlsen

At the end of the last ice age, much of North America looked something like this — a vast savanna populated with many species of large animals, including mammoths, camels, horses, giant beavers, and mastodons (pictured here). But something happened that wiped out all these creatures, and a study published in November in the journal Science sheds some new light on just when North America’s megafauna disappeared. UW graduate student Jacquelyn Gill MS’08, PhDx’12, along with professor Jack Williams, Katherine Lininger ’08, and researchers at other universities studied fossilized pollen, charcoal, and dung fungus to determine when the large animals were last present in central North America. Their findings indicate that the animals died out over the course of nearly two millennia, between 14,800 and 13,000 years ago. The decline of the animals appears to have been gradual — neither caused by rapid kill-off by humans nor by a sudden change in habitat.

Published in the Spring 2010 issue


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