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The Associational Critique of Quaternary Overkill and Why It is Largely Irrelevant to the Extinction Debate

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The overkill hypothesis has been criticized using a simple observation— with the exception of New Zealand, there is little evidence for human hunting of extinct Quaternary faunas. We explore the legitimacy of this argument, or what we call the “Associational Critique,” the idea that the paucity of evidence for the subsistence exploitation of extinct taxa weakens or falsifies overkill. Using quantitative and probabilistic models, based on the temporal depth of extinction events, human demography, and taphonomic bias, we ask how many associations with extinct fauna should have been found by this point in time in Australia, North America, and New Zealand. We conclude that such evidence should be rare in Australia, of intermediate abundance in North America, and common in New Zealand, a conclusion very much in accord with the current state of the archaeological record. We reach a similar conclusion using an analysis of the relative frequency of radiocarbon dates from each region dating to the time of coexistence of humans and extinct fauna. We argue that a scarcity of evidence for the exploitation of extinct fauna is not only consistent with overkill but also nearly every other extinction hypothesis that has been proposed, thus rendering the Associational Critique irrelevant.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: October 1, 2012

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