Pleistocene Megafauna Extinction

Joseph Rossano

The mechanism of mass of extinctions in the Pleistocene epoch, particularly the disappearance of giant animals--collectively the megafauna--remains a central question of paleontology and evolutionary ecology.

Almost 50 years ago, Dr. Paul Martin brought evidence for the extinctions being a direct result of Homo sapiens' movement across the land bridge from Asia into the Americas. Megafauna did not recognize the threat, falling as easy prey to our increasingly numerous stone age brethren. Martin attributed the mass disappearance of such North American species as the horse, mammoth, and giant sloth to Man: the Pleistocene overkill, prehistoric hunters’ “blitzkrieg” to annihilation.

Dr. Ross Macphee more recently proposed that “hyperdisease” accompanied the human-megafauna interface, and was largely responsible for the die-off of the of late Pleistocene megafauna.

The theory of epidemic disease challenges, if not supplants, the theory that Man alone, with limited weaponry, density, and geographic reach, could over-harvest the continents’ large animals to the point of extinction.

Examining the striking Pleistocene extinctions, Professor Daniel Janzen joined Martin to highlight the botanical “Neotropical anachronisms” that still follow in either case. New World trees bearing large-seeded fruits--Honey Locust, Paw Paw, avocados, Guanacaste, Osage orange, and others--began a path to diminished and isolated distribution as their co-evolved megafauna dispersers were extinguished. Persisting only barely via scattered horses, “a Spanish gift from the Pleistocene,” these trees become “living-dead” as their fruits fall to decompose within the shadows from which they came, without hope for process or transport to fertile ground.

These Pleistocene extinction scenarios all implicate the hand of Man, even at our earliest crude impact. The ancient megafauna, by their living-dead trees, bring the long-ago to the here and now, where we will bring the final blows to them and critical species threats across the living world.

You stand before the DNA records bringing forward the Mammoth, Woolly Rhinoceros, and the Short Faced Bear, to name a few. In the words of Suleiman the Great, you are the “Shadow of God on Earth.”

read more about this topic...

Martin Overkill Hypothesis at AMNH

MacPhee Disease Hypothesis at AMNH

Janzen and Martin Pleistocene Anachronism:
Janzen, Daniel H. & Paul S. Martin. 1982. Neotropical anachronisms: The fruits the gomphotheres ate. Science 215: 19-27

Janzen, Daniel H. 1982. Fruits for Famished Mammoths. Garden: (6) 12-14, 32.

read more about the exhibition...

Opening May 22, 2014
Isaac Delgado Fine Arts Gallery
Delgado Community College, City Park Campus
Building 1, Third Floor
615 City Park Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70119

Exhibit dates are May 22 - August 28, 2014
There will be a closing reception and artist talk on August 28, 5 - 7 p.m.

Summer gallery hours:
Monday - Thursday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

The public is welcome and there is no admission charge. For further information contact Brenda Hanegan, gallery director, at 504-671-6377, or

Original exhibition curated by David Francis
Center on Contemporary Art, Seattle, WA