Did our ancestors kill all the island megafauna?

The bones of a pygmy mammoth.

The bones of a pygmy mammoth. (credit: National Park Service/Justin Tweet)

Humans haven’t always been great to nature. But at least our ancestors may not have killed off island megafauna in the distant past, so that’s something. New research, published in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, suggests that there’s not enough data to say that hominids in the Pleistocene—2.6 million to 11,700 years ago—were responsible for most of the extinctions on the islands they traveled to.

Overkill

The hypothesis that homo sapiens’ distant ancestors killed off the world’s myriad ancient megafauna (not just on islands) dates back to 1966, with geoscientist Paul Martin‘s “overkill” proposal. But the idea has been floating around for far longer than the formal proposal. According to Julien Louys—associate professor of paleontology at Griffiths University in Australia and an author of the new research—the question of what caused the death of the world’s megafauna dates back to the 19th century.

“It has, in certain circles, become very polarized,” Louys told Ars.

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