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The Associational Critique of Quaternary Overkill and why it is Largely Irrelevant to the Extinction Debate

  • Todd A. Surovell (a1) and Brigid S. Grund (a2)


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.


La hipótesis de exceso de caza ha sido criticada utilizando una simple observación–con la excepción de Nueva Zelandia, existe pocas evidencias de caza humana de fauna extinta del Cuaternario. Nosotros exploramos la legitimidad de este argumento, o lo que llamamos la “Crítica por Asociación”, la idea de que la ausencia de evidencia para la explotación de subsistencia debilita o falsifica la hipótesis de exceso de caza. Utilizando modelos cuantitativos y probabilísticos basados en distancia temporal de eventos de extinción, demografía humana, y sesgo tafonómico, nos preguntamos cuántas asociaciones con fauna extinta se han encontrado hasta este momento en Australia, Norte América, y Nueva Zelandia. Concluimos que con tales evidencias debería ser escaso en Australia, de abundancia intermedia en Norte América y común en Nueva Zelandia, una conclusión mucho más concordante con el estado actual del registro arqueológico. Llegamos a una conclusión similar utilizando un análisis de frecuencias relativas de fechados radiocarbónicas de cada región que datan de la coexistencia de humanos y fauna extinta. Argumentamos que la escasez de evidencia de explotación de fauna extinta no es solo consistente con el exceso de caza si n también con todas las hipótesis que han sido propuestas, haciendo irrelevante a la Crítica por Asociación.



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