The Pleistocene Extinction
by R. Cedric Leonard
Paleontologists the world over know that something catastrophic happened to the large mammals roaming the world during the Pleistocene Epoch. Woolley mammoths, mastodons, toxodons, sabre-toothed cats, woolley rhinos, giant ground sloths, giant armadillos, giant beavers, and many other large Pleistocene animals disappeared almost overnight. In fact, well over 200 entire species (involving millions of individual animals) totally disappeared at the end of the Pleistocene some 10,000-12,000 years ago in what is known to Paleontologists as the Pleistocene Extinction (Click for table).
"The late Quaternary, that period spanning the late Pleistocene and Holocene, has been a time of profound environmental changes. As the worldwide process of deglaciation accelerated, global ecosystems progressively fell into disequilibrium. Atmospheric circulation patterns were modified, and climate zones were not only displaced but altered in character. Climate changes resulted in altered patterns of geomorphic processes and, consequently, characters of landscapes. . . . Variations in climate and vegetation similarly affected Pleistocene megafauna, and extinction occurred on a catastrophic scale." (Nials, 1999)
Moreover, ice core samples taken in Greenland indicate that massive vulcanism occurred 11,600 years ago. It's beginning to look like the Pleistocene Epoch didn't tippy-toe out silently, but rather ended with a large roar. Geologists and Paleontologists have an innate distaste for catastrophism, and that's understandable. Catastrophists, who in the beginning were identifying every strata of sediment with a worldwide flood, layer upon layer, almost totally discredited the field of geologyand uniformitarianism pulled the science out of the fire. But now, scientists in both fields are gradually realizing that both catastrophism and uniformitarianism (or gradualism) are at work in nature, and that everything can't be explained using one or the other alone (Gould, 1975). One of the indicators of the end of the Pleistocene 12,000 years ago is the huge numbers of frozen carcasses in both hemispheres: Canada and Alaska in the western, and Northern Russia and Siberia in the eastern.
NORTH AMERICAN REMAINS
Back in middle 1940s Dr. Frank C. Hibben, Prof. of Archeology at the University of New Mexico mounted an expedition to Alaska to look for human remains. The remains he found were not human, but what he found was anything but evidence of gradualism or uniformitarianism. Instead he found miles of muck filled with the remains of mammoth, mastodon, several kinds of bison, horses, wolves, bears and lions. Just north of Fairbanks, Hibben and his associates watched as bulldozers pushed the half-melted muck into sluice boxes for the extraction of gold. Animal tusks and bones rolled up in front of the blades "like shavings before a giant plane". The carcasses were found in all attitudes of death, most of them "pulled apart by some unexplainable prehistoric catastrophic disturbance" (Hibben, 1946).
The evidence of the violence of nature combined with the stench of rotting carcasses was staggering. The ice fields containing these remains stretched for hundred of miles in every direction (Hibben, 1946). Trees and animals, layers of peat and mosses, twisted and mangled together like some giant mixer had jumbled them some 10-12,000 years ago, and then froze them into a solid mass. The evidence immediately suggests an enormous tidal wave which raged over the land, tumbling animals and vegetation within its mass, which was in turn quick-frozen (Sanderson, 1960). But the extinction is not limited to the Arctic.
Paleontologist George G. Simpson considers the extinction of the Pleistocene horse in north America to be one of the most mysterious episodes in zoological history, admitting that in all honesty no one knows the answer. He also admits that this is only a part of the larger problem of the extinction of many other species in America at the same time (Simpson, 1951). The horse is merely the tip of the iceberg: giant tortoises living in the Caribbean Sea, the giant sloth, the sabre-toothed cat, the glyptodont and toxodon. These were all tropical animals. They weren't wiped out because Alaska and Siberia were experiencing an Ice Age. "Unless one is willing to postulate freezing temperatures across the equator, such an explanation clearly begs the question," say leading Paleontologists (Martin & Guilday, 1967).
In addition, the evidence shows that neither the mammoth nor the mastodon, nor any of the other larger Pleistocene animals survived, even in the tropical regions of Central and South America. (Hibben, 1946)
SOUTH AMERICAN REMAINS
Often ignored are mastodons and other large mammal remains which have been found in South America, where three genera of mastodon-like gomphotheres went extinct. Mastodons, glyptodonts, toxodons, giant beavers, giant armadillos, giant jaguars, giant ground sloths, and scores of other entire species were all totally wiped out at the end of the Pleistocene. While massive piles of mastodon bones were discovered near Bogota, Colombia (Braghine, 1940), whole mastodons, toxodons, giant sloths and other animals have been found in Venezuela quick-frozen among the mountain glaciers (Berlitz, 1969).
A North American Woolley Mammoth
Mastodon remains have been found all the way from Venesuela to Southern Chile. A hundred years ago a complete skeleton of a mastodon was found near Concordia, Colombia, (Blake, 1861). More recent finds include the following: Late Pleistocene remains of mastodon and giant sloth in the Minas Gerais caves, Brazil (Simpson & De Paula, 1957); mastodon at the Tibito site in central Colombia (Correal, 1981); mastodon and other Late Pleistocene animals at the Muaco waterhole east of Coro, Venesuela (Rouse and Cruxent, l963); mastodon and glyptodont at Taima-taima, Venesuela (Bryan & Grühn, 1978).
Also mastodons have been found in northern Peru, in the region around the Moche Valley, as well as the open site of La Cumbre, dating l2,360 and l0,535 B.P. (Bryan & Grühn, 1978) Even in central Chile, two sites have yielded similar remains: the Tagua-tagua site in the central valley south of Santiago, dating to 11,400 B.P., produced the remains of mastodon and prehistoric horse; and Quereo, located on a bluff now overlooking the Pacific, has yielded a number of extinct Pleistocene animals. (Dillehay, 1989)
Mastodon bones were found among the human artifacts at the archeological site of Monte Verde, an excavation in southern Chile headed by Dr. Tom D. Dillehay of the University of Kentucky. In fact, it was the discovery of mastodon remains which drew the attention of archeologists and geologists to Monte Verde to begin with. (Wilford, 1998)
Elephant-type species have been found throughout northern South America, including the high mountains of Ecuador (Blake, 1861). Two species of gomphotheres, Cuvieronius tropicus and Haplomastodon waringi, were characteristic of the Pleistocene fauna in evidence. So, it is clear that several types of mastodons occupied large tracts of South America until the close of the Pleistocene Epoch ca. 10,000 B.C., and that the Pleistocene extinction was in no way limited to the polar regions of our planet.
Mastodons lived in the tropical rain forests, and spread from Central America into South AmericaCuvieronius tropicus, the last genus of New World gomphotheres to become extinct, was widely distributed in North, Central, and South America. In South America, this taxon survived until about 9,000 B.C., apparently surviving their North American cousins. According to the Illinois State Museum website on Pleistocene Animals, sabre-tooth cat remains have also been recovered from sites in South America.
FROZEN ANIMALS IN SIBERIA
The picture in Siberia and northern Europe is no different. According to the explorer Wragnell, just north of Siberia whole islands are formed of the bones of Pleistocene animals swept northward from the continent into the frigid waters of the Arctic Ocean. Estimates range from fifty thousand to several million animals that lie buried along the rivers of northern Siberia. (Patten, 1966)
The top expert on woolly mammoths in Siberia is Nikolai Vereshchagin who, since 1940, has identified close to a million bone fragments of many different animals recovered from the permafrosts of Eurasia (Vereshchagin & Baryshnikov, 1982). No one knows the true number of animals that may yet lie hidden in the frozen ground.
The famous Beresovka mammoth, excavated by Otto Herz and E. W. Pfizenmayer and shipped back to St. Petersburg, Russia in 1902, first drew attention to the preserving properties of being quick-frozen when buttercups were found in its mouth and undigested food in its stomach. (Pfizenmayer, 1939) This was no gradual shift in temperatureit had to be both sudden and drastic!
The mammoths died suddenly, in intense cold, and in great numbers. Death came so quickly that the swallowed vegetation is yet undigested . . . Grasses, bluebells, buttercups, tender sedges, and wild beans have been found, yet identifiable and undeteriorated, in their mouths and stomachs (Sanderson, 1960).
The question is, were these animals really grazing in an arctic environment when the catastrophe occurred? Evidence suggests that this might not have been the case. It has been confirmed that out of thirty-four extinct animal species represented by frozen remains in Siberia, at least twenty-eight were species adapted only to temperate conditions (Okladnikov, 1970). In addition, the types of food found frozen in the mouths and stomachs of these animals point to a much more temperate environment.
In the New Scientist (May 17, 1979 issue), two professors from Cardiff and Oxford Universities in Britain were quoted as saying that the last ice age may have come on quite swiftly and cited the frozen mammoths in Siberia as proof. The excellent state of preservation is evidence that immediately after death they were "quickly frozen," the article said.
And even though a spokesman at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, England says "careening" [shifting of the crust of our planet] is impossible, other authorities disagree (Heirtzler, 1968, Lippman, 1962, et al.). Offset distribution of ice has been cited as a responsible trigger for such an event (Brown, 1967); and ice does accumulate at the South Pole in massive quantities to the tune of 2,000 billion tons a yeara figure staggering the imagination! But a cosmic impact could also be responsible.
Geologists are once more becoming divided on the issue of catastrophism. A few are breaking away from their rigid stand of the past, and are at looking at the problem with more of an open mind. Mr. Harold P. Lippman seems to be objective when he admits that the magnitude of fossils and tusks encased in the Siberian permafrost present an "insuperable difficulty" to uniformitarianism alone, since no gradual process can result in the preservation of tens of thousands of tusks and whole individuals, "even if they died in winter" (Lippman, 1962). Especially when many of these individuals have undigested grasses and leaves in their belly.
Certain misguided workers have vainly suggested that man was the cause of all this death and destruction. In the first place, the remains of the animals outnumber the remains of man a million to one. There is no way the populations of man could have killed this many animals. Some Pleistocene bone sites obviously represent the efforts of Big Game Hunters: fire was sometimes used to drive a herd of animals over a cliff or into a bog to be slaughtered for food. In these instances, the hand of man is rather obvious. Prof. N. K. Vereschagin of the then Soviet Union states bluntly: "The accumulation of mammoth bones and carcasses of mammoth, rhinoceros, and bison found in frozen ground in Indigirka, Lolyma, and Novosibirsk bear no traces of hunting of primitive man" (Vereschagin, 1967).
UNIVERSAL DEATH IN 10,000 B.C.
Charles Darwin, the famous naturalist, was shocked by the extinction of species at the close of the Pleistocene. He writes: "The extinction of species has been involved in the most gratuitous mystery . . . no one can have marvelled more than I have at the extinction of species" (Darwin, 1859). He declared that for whole species to be destroyed in Southern Patagonia, in Brazil, in the mountain ranges of Peru, and in North America up to the Bering Straits, one must "shake the entire framework of the globe".
Smilodon (Sabre-toothed) cat
Watching them cut the huge block of muck-filled ice containing the mammoth remains on the recent "Discovery" TV special helped me realize: if a woolley mammoth standing out in the grasslands of central Asia were to suddenly die, for whatever reason, his body would simply rot and the scavangers would pick the bones clean. The only way for this to have happened would be for the mammoth to either fall in a lake or pond and drown, or be swept into a frozen arctic environment by a massive wave of water! Under which of these two scenarios would such an animal be quick-frozen, hair and skin still intacteven with undigested food still in its stomach!
The bones of extinct Pleistocene mammals can be found almost anywhere: they lie bleaching in the sands of Florida; in the gravels of New Jersey; the dry terraces of western Texas; as well as protrude from the sticky ooze of the tar pits near Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. These animals did not simply grow old and die natural deaths. "The young lie with the old, foal with dam and calf with cow. Whole herds of animals were apparently killed together, overcome by some common power." (Hibben, 1946)
"The event was worldwide. The mammoths of Siberia became extinct about the same time as the giant rhinoceros of Europe; the mastodons of Alaska and the bison of Siberia ended simultaneously. The same is true of the Asian elephants and the American camels. The cause of these extinctions must be common to both hemispheres. If the coming of glacial conditions was gradual, it would not have caused the extinctions, because the various animals could have simply migrated to where conditions were better. What is seen here is total surprise, and uncontrolled violence." (Leonard, 1979)
Even the Pleistocene geologist William R. Farrand of the Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory, who is opposed to catastrophism in any form, states: "Sudden death is indicated by the robust condition of the animals and their full stomachs . . . the animals were robust and healthy when they died" (Farrand, 1961). Neither in his article nor in his letters of rebuttal does Farrand ever face the reality of worldwide catastrophe represented by the millions of bones deposited all over this planet at the end of the Pleistocene.
Some geologists may be softening their traditional stand against axial tilts and other rotational variations which could be the cause of world catastrophes. Dr. J. R. Heirtzler of the Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory observed that there has been "a revival of a 30-year-old theory that the glacial ages were caused by changes in the tilt of the earth's axis . . . there is clear evidence that large earthquakes occur at about the same time as certain changes in the earth's rotational motion." He goes on to say: "Whatever the mechanism of these changes, it is not hard to believe that similar changes in the earth's axial motion in times past could have caused major earthquake and mountain-building activity and could even have caused the magnetic field to flip" (Heirtzler, 1968). It has also been found that the end of the Pleistocene was attended by rampant volcanic activity (Hibben, 1946).
More recently Prof. Stephen Jay Gould, professor of geology at Harvard University, after studying the geological and paleontological record intensively, has championed the cause for open-minded consideration of a catastrophism uniformitarianism geological paradigm. He concludes that both concepts are equally represented in the geological record (Gould, 1977). Galactic radiation is even being looked at as a possible cause. (Here one can't help but be reminded of Plato's reference to "the stream from heaven" which arrives on earth "after the usual interval"; Timaeus, 23.)
Prof. Hibben appears to sum up the situation in a single statement: "The Pleistocene period ended in death. This was no ordinary extinction of a vague geological period which fizzled to an uncertain end. This death was catastrophic and all inclusive" (Hibben, 1946).
So it seems the last Ice Age, the Pleistocene Epoch, the Upper Paleolithic Age, and the so-called mythological "reign of the gods" in Egyptian history all ended on or about the same date. It appears to me that the evidence, when taken into full consideration, points to a worldwide catastrophe (from whatever cause) which occurred at the close of the Pleistocene Epoch. Can it be merely coincidence that this is the very date (circa. 10,000 B.C.) indicated by Plato for the floods and seismic disturbances which led to the sinking of Atlantis and the destruction of its empire?
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