Abundant megafauna are important to the Clovis-First model of the peopling of the Americas because the mechanism for what was considered to be an exceptional event or series of events was overkill of these large, naive, critters . Overkill led first to localized extirpations (moving the Clovis folks along on a bow-wave of blood) and ultimately to megafaunal extinctions across the hemisphere.
Sad, then, for that particular story and its storytellers, to see recently reported results in Science which track (through samples of dung fungus) a millenium-long decline in mastodon and other megafauna before the arrival of Clovis. This decline might relate to climate change or to the influence of pre-Clovis humans – it’s too early to say. But as the graph below shows, the decline set in pre-Clovis at about 14,800 cal B.P., and by the time of Clovis (ca. 13,500 cal B.P.), far from being hyperabundant, herbiferous megafauna seem to have been at a historically low level of population. Vegetation change (often used to track climate) was a result of this die-back, not the cause of it. Perhaps this remnant megafauna population was then finished off by Clovis, but that is hardly a bow-wave of blood scenario, but rather a “mopping up” of increasingly scarce game. Has there ever been as misunderstood an archaeological concoction as the Clovis Culture?
Update: The Guardian has coverage, incongruously illustrated by the RBCM’s life-sized mammoth model.
Jacquelyn L. Gill, John W. Williams, Stephen T. Jackson, Katherine B. Lininger, Guy S. Robinson.
Pleistocene Megafaunal Collapse, Novel Plant Communities, and Enhanced Fire Regimes in North America.
Science 20 November 2009: Vol. 326. no. 5956, pp. 1100 – 1103