Journal article Open Access

A calendar chronology for Pleistocene mammoth and horse extinction in North America based on Bayesian radiocarbon calibration

Buck, Caitlin E.; Bard, Edouard

Abstract Recent debate about the timing of late Pleistocene extinctions in North America has taken place on the radiocarbon timescale. Since the current internationally-agreed radiocarbon calibration curve (known as IntCal04) extends back well into the Pleistocene, however, it is possible to make inferences on the calendar scale. To do so requires some fairly sophisticated, tailored statistical tools, to allow for a) the presence of considerable uncertainty on individual radiocarbon ages and on the IntCal04 estimate, and b) the inevitable incompleteness of our access to the fossil record. In this paper we demonstrate Bayesian radiocarbon calibration software, known as BCal, which: implements models with both of these features, is tried and tested within the archaeology research community, but has not previously been used by those engaged in extinction research. We conclude that the extinction of horse (equus ferus/caballus) in Alaska and the Yukon is broadly contemporary with the arrival of humans in the area and took place at around 14,200 cal BP. We find that the extinction of mammoth (mammuthus primigenius) in the same region occurred around 900 calendar years later (c. 13,300 cal BP). We also establish, with high probability, that the start of the Bölling warm phase occurred before these events and that the start of the Younger Dryas cold period occurred after.

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