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The uncertain case for human-driven extinctions prior to Homo sapiens

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 June 2020

J. Tyler Faith*
Natural History Museum of Utah, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT84108USA Department of Anthropology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT84112USA
John Rowan
Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA01003USA
Andrew Du
Department of Anthropology and Geography, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523USA
W. Andrew Barr
Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology, Department of Anthropology, The George Washington University, Washington, DC20052USA
*Corresponding author e-mail address: (J.T. Faith)


A growing body of literature proposes that our ancestors contributed to large mammal extinctions in Africa long before the appearance of Homo sapiens, with some arguing that premodern hominins (e.g., Homo erectus) triggered the demise of Africa's largest herbivores and the loss of carnivoran diversity. Though such arguments have been around for decades, they are now increasingly accepted by those concerned with biodiversity decline in the present-day, despite the near complete absence of critical discussion or debate. To facilitate that process, here we review ancient anthropogenic extinction hypotheses and critically examine the data underpinning them. Broadly speaking, we show that arguments made in favor of ancient anthropogenic extinctions are based on problematic data analysis and interpretation, and are substantially weakened when extinctions are considered in the context of long-term evolutionary, ecological, and environmental changes. Thus, at present, there is no compelling empirical evidence supporting a deep history of hominin impacts on Africa's faunal diversity.

Review Article
Copyright © University of Washington. Published by Cambridge University Press, 2020

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