Date of this Version
The excavations at Natural Trap Cave have stimulated our interest in the changes that took place some 12,000 to 8,000 years ago that mark the end of the Pleistocene. Of these changes, the extinction that occurred at the end of the Pleistocene in North and South America is near enough in time, and the animals involved are well enough known, to stimulate interest in the causal mechanism. With the possible exception of the extinction of dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous, none other has been the subject of more varied and extensive speculation. One of the most attractive hypotheses is the suggestion that the early peoples of North America were in some way responsible for the demise of many of their mammalian contemporaries. Samuel Aughey (l874) was one of the earliest proponents of this idea, suggesting that the Indians may have been responsible for the extermination of the mammoths in North America. Other workers have supported the same general causal mechanism, but P. S. Martin has presented during the last decade the most comprehensive and convincing arguments for this model of extinction which has won popular acceptance as the "Overkill Hypothesis." While many people accept the overkill hypothesis as the only reasonable explanation for the extinction at the end of the Pleistocene in the western hemisphere, the idea has not received general acclaim among vertebrate paleontologists, many of whom favor models featuring environmental change (Guilday, 1968; Lundelius, 1968; Slaughter, 1968, 1975; Schultz and Hillerud, 1976). The various environmental models are united by a common thread of climatic change. Acceptance of either the overkill model or a climatic model determines the types of the research possible or worthwhile and the extent to which the end Pleistocene extinction can be used as a model for understanding older but similar extinctions.