For the longest time, humans have been blamed for hunting the American mastodon, an ancient relative of the modern elephant, to extinction. However, new radiocarbon dating of fossils from North America suggests that the American mastodon’s extinction predates human colonization of the continent, according to Motherboard.
“There’s this prevailing idea that as soon as human hunters crossed the Bering land bridge they had sticks with spears and went across the continent and led everything to extinction,” said Grant Zazula, a paleontogist with the Yukon Government, as quoted by CBC. “When we did our radio carbon dates on all these mastodons from the Yukon and Alaska, we learned that they weren’t even here by the time people showed up.”
The five ton animals suddenly went extinct about 11,000 years ago, despite being an incredibly successful species. If not humans, then what caused the American mastodon to drop off of the face of the planet? Unfortunately, the study that brought this information to light, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, doesn’t have an answer.
“There was a massive die-off of a good part of their population in the northern part of the continent around 75,000 years ago,” said Zazula, as quoted by The Los Angeles Times. “We suspect that once the northern group died off, the species was already heading toward trouble. What ultimately pushed them over the edge, though – hunters picking off the last of them or climate change at the end of the ice age being just too much for them – is an unanswered question. There isn’t a smoking gun.”