Prehistoric hunters are not to blame for mammoths going extinct in the Far East, one of their latest habitats, said a new joint Russian-American study published on Tuesday.
The reason why mammoths went extinct around 11,500 years ago in Beringia – a region comprising modern Chukotka, Alaska and far eastern reaches of Siberia – was severe cooling of climate, according to a new study published in Nature Communications online magazine.
Taiga and swamps replacing steppes in the region’s south also contributed, said the study, headed by Glen Macdonald of the University of California, Los Angeles.
The academic community has no consensus on what caused the extinction of megafauna such as mammoths at the end of late Pleistocene, when modern humans appeared. Some researchers blame overhunting while others put the process down to climate change.
The new study supports the latter theory, with researchers examining remnants of some 1,300 Beringia mammoths and 1,000 samples of soil fossils to determine the reasons for mammoths’ extinction.
Beringia teamed with mammoths between 45,000 and 30,000 years ago, but a climate change destroyed the shrubs and herbaceous plants that the animals fed on, replacing it with swamp vegetation in the region’s north, the study said.
The mammoths migrated south, but another climate change that destroyed the region’s steppes around 13,000 wiped out most of them, the study said. Human input was minimal, it said.
Isolated mammoth populations survived on remote Arctic islands until the 2nd millennium B.C.E., archeological data show.