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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Mar 18;105(11):4105-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0711140105. Epub 2008 Mar 11.

The protracted Holocene extinction of California's flightless sea duck (Chendytes lawi) and its implications for the Pleistocene overkill hypothesis.

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  • 1Department of Social Sciences, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, CA 93407-0329, USA.


Bones of the flightless sea duck (Chendytes lawi) from 14 archaeological sites along the California coast indicate that humans hunted the species for at least 8,000 years before it was driven to extinction. Direct (14)C dates on Chendytes bones show that the duck was exploited on the southern California islands as early as approximately 11,150-10,280 calendar years B.P., and on the mainland by at least 8,500 calendar years B.P. The youngest direct date of 2,720-2,350 calendar years B.P., combined with the absence of Chendytes bones from hundreds of late Holocene sites, suggests that the species was extinct by approximately 2,400 years ago. Although the extinction of Chendytes clearly resulted from human overhunting, its demise raises questions about the Pleistocene overkill model, which suggests that megafauna were driven to extinction in a blitzkrieg fashion by Native Americans approximately 13,000 years ago. That the extermination of Chendytes was so protracted and archaeologically visible suggests that, if the terminal Pleistocene megafauna extinctions were primarily the result of human exploitation, there should also be a long and readily detectable archaeological record of their demise. The brief window now attributed to the Clovis culture ( approximately 13,300-12,900 B.P.) seems inconsistent with an overhunting event.

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