Levantine overkill: 1.5 million years of hunting down the body size distribution

Jacob Dembitzer, Ran Barkai, Miki Ben-Dor, Shai Meiri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Multiple large-bodied species went extinct during the Pleistocene. Changing climates and/or human hunting are the main hypotheses used to explain these extinctions. We studied the causes of Pleistocene extinctions in the Southern Levant, and their subsequent effect on local hominin food spectra, by examining faunal remains in archaeological sites across the last 1.5 million years. We examined whether climate and climate changes, and/or human cultures, are associated with these declines. We recorded animal abundances published in the literature from 133 stratigraphic layers, across 58 Pleistocene and Early Holocene archaeological sites, in the Southern Levant. We used linear regressions and mixed models to assess the weighted mean mass of faunal assemblages through time and whether it was associated with temperature, paleorainfall, or paleoenvironment (C3 vs. C4 vegetation). We found that weighted mean body mass declined log-linearly through time. Mean hunted animal masses 10,500 years ago, were only 1.7% of those 1.5 million years ago. Neither body size at any period, nor size change from one layer to the next, were related to global temperature or to temperature changes. Throughout the Pleistocene, new human lineages hunted significantly smaller prey than the preceding ones. This suggests that humans extirpated megafauna throughout the Pleistocene, and when the largest species were depleted the next-largest were targeted. Technological advancements likely enabled subsequent human lineages to effectively hunt smaller prey replacing larger species that were hunted to extinction or until they became exceedingly rare.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107316
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Volume276
DOIs
StatePublished - 15 Jan 2022

Keywords

  • Climate
  • Early humans
  • Hunting
  • Levant
  • Megafauna
  • Pleistocene
  • Quaternary

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