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Nature. 2004 Oct 7;431(7009):684-9.

Pleistocene to Holocene extinction dynamics in giant deer and woolly mammoth.

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Department of Biology, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK.

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  • Nature. 2005 Mar 17;434(7031):413.


The extinction of the many well-known large mammals (megafauna) of the Late Pleistocene epoch has usually been attributed to 'overkill' by human hunters, climatic/vegetational changes or to a combination of both. An accurate knowledge of the geography and chronology of these extinctions is crucial for testing these hypotheses. Previous assumptions that the megafauna of northern Eurasia had disappeared by the Pleistocene/Holocene transition were first challenged a decade ago by the discovery that the latest woolly mammoths on Wrangel Island, northeastern Siberia, were contemporaneous with ancient Egyptian civilization. Here we show that another spectacular megafaunal species, the giant deer or 'Irish elk', survived to around 6,900 radiocarbon yr bp (about 7,700 yr ago) in western Siberia-more than three millennia later than its previously accepted terminal date-and therefore, that the reasons for its ultimate demise are to be sought in Holocene not Pleistocene events. Before their extinction, both giant deer and woolly mammoth underwent dramatic shifts in distribution, driven largely by climatic/vegetational changes. Their differing responses reflect major differences in ecology.

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