As recently as 11,000 years ago - "near time" to geologists - mammoths, mastodons, gomphotheres, ground sloths, giant armadillos, native camels and horses, the dire wolf, and many other large mammals roamed North America. In what has become one of science's greatest riddles, these large animals vanished in North and South America around the time humans arrived at the end of the last great ice age.
Part paleontological adventure and part memoir, Twilight of the Mammoths presents in detail internationally renowned paleoecologist Paul Martin's widely discussed and debated "overkill" hypothesis to explain these mysterious megafauna extinctions. Taking us from Rampart cave in the Grand Canyon, where he finds himself "chest deep in sloth dung", to other important fossil sites in Arizona and Chile, Martin's engaging book, written for a wide audience, uncovers our rich evolutionary legacy and shows why he has come to believe that the earliest Americans literally hunted these animals to death.
As he discusses the discoveries that brought him to this hypothesis, Martin relates many colorful stories and gives a rich overview of the field of paleontology as well as his own fascinating career. He explores the ramifications of the overkill hypothesis for similar extinctions worldwide and examines other explanations for the extinctions, including climate change. Martin's visionary thinking about our missing megafauna offers inspiration and a challenge for today's conservation efforts as he speculates on what we might do to remedy this situation - both in our thinking about what is "natural" and in the natural world itself.This book is published by University of California Press.
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"A cogent, impassioned case that has the potential to reshape conservation biology practices... An engaging tale of scientific discovery that uncovers a lost part of the planet's wild, evolutionary legacy and offers some very bold ideas on how to reclaim it." (Audubon magazine)
"Martin delivers an energetic and highly entertaining look at one of the most controversial issues in his field... [He] uses his own extensive research - as well as amusing insights from his personal life and career - to make his case." (Publishers Weekly)
I knew the author, Paul Martin, for many years. He died September 13, 2010. He is a colleague who gave me, what I like to call, "deep-time eyes." Thankfully, he wrote this book at a time when his career had already fully flourished. His detailed reflections of bringing a deep-time, evolutionary understanding to ecology over the course of 50 years of professional work are superbly presented. I was delighted to discover it on Audible right around the time he died, just by searching the new biology books list here. For nonprofessionals, you may want to leap to chapter 5 ("Grand Canyon Suite: Mountain Goats, Condors, Equids, and Mammoths") and onward to first get a sense of the enormous practical significance of Paul's contributions to the fields of Pleistocene ecology and evolutionary ecology. The final chapter, "Kill Sites, Sacred Sites," invests the practical ecological management consequences of Paul's "Pleistocene Rewilding" proposal with the kind of spiritual significance that compels atheists like him and me to declare ourselves among the religious. Listen, and begin to see not only North America but the other continents and major islands of the world re-animated with magnificent megafaunal ghosts of the very recent past -- and weep for our species role in bringing their demise.
The subject is fascinating; the arguments are convincing; the presentation is a little disjointed, and the narration is as dry as old bones.
I have a passion for all things science, music, and outdoors. I am also a "crazy dog lady."
I learned a lot from this book, but I am still not entirely sold on overkill as the singular cause of North American megafaunal extinctions.
It is among the best. It is a carefully narrated account with lots of information supporting the author's thesis that man lay behind the extinction of the mammoths. He also presents a novel approach to restoring some of the missing fauna.
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