Headline of the Week

From Arthur Wilderson: “Swedish flamingoes massacred in frenzied anteater attack”.

It is actually true if a bit breathless…

Prompted by this and perhaps the recent Zoo posts, Arthur added some thoughts on a distant relative, the ground-dwelling late- Pleistocene monster Megatherium:

“I saw a mounted megatherium skeleton in Chicago’s Field Museum. I was pretty impressed, and then thought, “yep, that’s what they invented atlatls for.” Trees, people, bears… I could readily imagine it backhanding any serious problem across the room with little difficulty.

“The notion of gutting and butchering a beast with such enormously robust bones and such a deep, massive torso with just little hand axes was fairly daunting too. Definitely a job for all the men, women and children in the band, well, those that aren’t standing guard to discourage the attention that all that blood and offal would inevitably attract.”

Speaking of which, the new crash- of- the- megafauna book, Once and Future Giants by Sharon Levy, is good– much on the late great Paul Martin, though it goes well beyond his original thoughts and refines them. Apparently his fascination with the late Pleistocene started when a mentor put a ball of giant sloth dung in his hand– as he did to me.

Science Links

A BBC news article seems to point to the “Overkill Hypothesis” as the major cause of the extinction of the American megafauna.

Studies of dung preserved in a Wisconsin lake suggest

“… a slow decline in megafauna that began about 15,000 years ago and appeared to last for about 1,000 years.

“This discovery rules out one idea that the extinction might have been caused by an extraterrestrial object striking Earth 13,000 years ago.


“This study is exciting because we’re getting some solid data about the ecological consequences of the removal of these animals,” said Ms Gill.

“After their decline we see an increase in the more warm-adapted deciduous trees, and an increase in charcoal [which means there was] an increase in the number of forest fires.”

The last may have some bearing on my Passenger Pigeon project, A Feathered Tempest.

The Eleanora’s falcon already leads a weird life, nesting on Mediterranean islands in the fall to intercept the songbird migration. Now it appears to also make one of the most amazing migrations.

“In total, the bird flies more than 9,500 kilometres across the African continent from the Balearic and Columbretes Islands before reaching the island of Madagascar. Some of the previously-obscure secrets now revealed by the scientists show that these falcons migrate by both day and night, and cross supposed ecological barriers such as the Sahara Desert.” (HT Laura Niven).

A gallery of the wild apple forests of the Tian Shan. I have been there let’s hope they don’t all fall to villas for rich Kazakh businessmen. (HT David Williamson).

Who Were the Cannibals?

More and more it has been suggested that we interacted little if at all with our close cousins the Neanderthals. Though there is still some controversy it mostly seems that we did not interbreed, finding each other too strange.

Some have wondered, more in literature than in science, if the appearance of our hairier relaatives made tehm the prototype for trolls and wild men– “Grendel”.

Now it seems we may have been their monster rather than they ours. A new study in the Journal of Anthropological sciences has found evidence of Neanderthal bones butchered like those of deer, and even Neanderthal teeth used as ornaments by our species.

“…Now the leader of the research team says he believes the flesh had been eaten by humans, while its teeth may have been used to make a necklace.

“Fernando Rozzi, of Paris’s Centre National de la Récherche Scientifique, said the jawbone had probably been cut into to remove flesh, including the tongue. Crucially, the butchery was similar to that used by humans to cut up deer carcass in the early Stone Age. “Neanderthals met a violent end at our hands and in some cases we ate them,” Rozzi said.”

Of course the conflict may have gone both ways– Neanderthals were physically stronger than Cro- Magnons. But it doesn’t look like we were friends, at least in Europe.

Neanderthal Doom

According to this piece in the BBC News, some late Neanderthalers were wiped out by a cold snap even they could not survive:

“…a climate downturn may have caused a drought, placing pressure on the last surviving Neanderthals by reducing their supplies of fresh water and killing off the animals they hunted.”


“These creatures (Homo neanderthalensis) had survived in local pockets during previous Ice Ages, bouncing back when conditions improved. But the last one appears to have been characterised by several rapid and severe changes in climate which hit a peak 30,000 years ago.

“Southern Iberia appears to have been sheltered from the worst of these. But about 24,000 years ago, conditions did deteriorate there.

“This event was the most severe the region had seen for 250,000 years, report Clive Finlayson, from the Gibraltar Museum; Francisco Jimenez-Espejo, from the University of Granada, Spain; and colleagues.

” “It looks pretty severe and also quite short,” Professor Finlayson told BBC News.

” “Things like olive trees and oak trees that are still with us today managed to ride it out. But a very fragmented, stressed population of Neanderthals – and perhaps other elements of the fauna – did not.”


“But a rare combination of freezing polar air blowing down the Rhone valley and Saharan air blowing north seems to have helped cool this part of the Mediterranean Sea, contributing to the severe conditions.”

HT Paleoblog. (And while you are there, check out the report of possible effects of early modern humans on cave bear populations during the same era. Those were “Interesting Times”).