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Recent excavations by the Ancient Southwest Texas Project of Texas State University sampled a previously undocumented Younger Dryas component from Eagle Cave in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands of Texas. This stratified assemblage consists of bison (Bison antiquus) bones in association with lithic artifacts and a hearth. Bayesian modeling yields an age of 12,660–12,480 cal BP, and analyses indicate behaviors associated with the processing of a juvenile bison and the manufacture and maintenance of lithic tools. This article presents spatial, faunal, macrobotanical, chronometric, geoarchaeological, and lithic analyses relating to the Younger Dryas component within Eagle Cave. The identification of the Younger Dryas occupation in Eagle Cave should encourage archaeologists to revisit previously excavated rockshelter sites in the Lower Pecos and beyond to evaluate deposits for unrecognized, older occupations.
A paleontological deposit near San Clemente de Térapa represents one of the very few Rancholabrean North American Land Mammal Age sites within Sonora, Mexico. During that time, grasslands were common, and the climate included cooler and drier summers and wetter winters than currently experienced in northern Mexico. Here, we demonstrate restructuring in the mammalian community associated with environmental change over the past 40,000 years at Térapa. The fossil community has a similar number of carnivores and herbivores whereas the modern community consists mostly of carnivores. There was also a 97% decrease in mean body size (from 289 kg to 9 kg) because of the loss of megafauna. We further provide an updated review of ungulates and carnivores, recognizing two distinct morphotypes of Equus, including E. scotti and a slighter species; as well as Platygonus compressus; Camelops hesternus; Canis dirus; and Lynx rufus; and the first regional records of Palaeolama mirifica, Procyon lotor, and Smilodon cf. S. fatalis. The Térapa mammals presented here provide a more comprehensive understanding of the faunal community restructuring that occurred in northern Mexico from the late Pleistocene to present day, indicating further potential biodiversity loss with continued warming and drying of the region.
Fossil remains of Euceratherium collinum (extinct shrub-ox) have been found throughout North America, including the Grand Canyon. Recent finds from the Escalante River Basin in southern Utah further extend the animal's range into the heart of the Colorado Plateau. E. collinum teeth and a metapodial condyle (foot bone) have been recovered in association with large distinctively shaped dung pellets, a morphology similar to a ‘Hershey's Kiss’ (HK), from a late Pleistocene dung layer in Bechan Cave. HK dung pellets have also been recovered from other alcoves in the Escalante River Basin including Willow and Fortymile canyons. Detailed analyses of the HK pellets confirmed them to be E. collinum and indicate a browser-type diet dominated (> 95%) by trees and shrubs: Artemisia tridentata (big sagebrush), Acacia sp. (acacia), Quercus (oak), and Chrysothamnus (rabbit brush). The retrieval of spring and fall pollen suggests E. collinum was a year-round resident in the Escalante River Basin.
Mustela macrodon (extinct sea mink) is known only from prehistoric and historic Native American shell middens dating less than 5100 years old along coastal islands of the Gulf of Maine, northeastern North America. The species is distinct from all known extant subspecies of M. vison (American mink) but still belongs to the North American subgenus Vison. Metric comparisons between M. macrodon and five subspecies of M. vison, using skull, mandible, humerus, radius, femur, and tibia skeletal elements, show that M. macrodon is larger in overall size and robustness and is proportionately larger in the dental region. Many habitat-related parallels exist between coastal island mink of the Gulf of Maine and those of the Alexander Archipelago, southeastern Alaska, where the overall largest living subspecies of mink is found (M. v. nesolestes).
More than 375 14C dates from 150 fossil sites in North America have been analyzed to evaluate the question of extinction of Late Pleistocene megafauna. When critically evaluated, no 14C ages for any extinct Pleistocene genera are younger than 10,000 yr B.P.
The extinct Harrington's mountain goat (Oreamnos harringtoni Stock) is predominantly known from dry cave localities in the Grand Canyon, Arizona, in addition to two sites in the Great Basin, Nevada, and from San Josecito Cave, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. A dry shelter in Natural Bridges National Monument, on the central Colorado Plateau, southeastern Utah, preserves numerous remains of the extinct mountain goat in addition to pack rat middens. Remains from a 100-cm stratigraphic profile indicate that O. harringtoni lived on the plateau >39,800 yr B.P., the oldest directly dated find of extinct mountain goat. Plant macrofossils indicate that Engelmann's spruce (Picea engelmannii), limber pine (Pinus flexilis), rose (Rosa cf. woodsii), and Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) grew during the late Pleistocene where a riparian and a pinyon-juniper (Pinus edulis-Juniperus osteosperma) community now predominates; Douglas fir are found only in mesic, protected, north-facing areas. Limber pine, Douglas fir, bark, and grasses were the major dietary components in the dung. A springtime diet of birch (Betula) is determined from pollen clumps in dung pellets.
The discovery of a unique organic deposit in a dry cave on the Colorado Plateau, southern Utah, permits the first comparison of the physical characteristics and the diet of the dung of the extinct mammoths from the arid Southwest, North America, with that of mammoths from Siberia and northern China, the only other known locations of such remains. The deposit buried beneath sand and rockfall is composed primarily of mammoth dung, estimated at over 300 m3. Radiocarbon dates on dung boluses indicate that the mammoths frequented the cave between approximately 14,700 and 11,000 yr B.P. (the range of ages at 2σ). The desiccated boluses, measuring approximately 230 × 170 × 85 mm, are nearly identical in size to dung from extant elephants. The largest contents in the dung are stalks measuring 60 × 4.5 mm. Grasses and sedges dominated the diet, although woody species were commonly eaten.
The vertebrate fauna of the last 30,000 radiocarbon years in the Grand Canyon is reviewed. Faunas accompanied with 92 14C dates have been analyzed from nine cave sites (four systematically excavated) and 50 packrat middens. Reasonably precise chronological and environmental data of late Pleistocene and Holocene age were obtained through dung studies in Rampart, Muav, and Stanton's Caves; from the numerous packrat middens; and from a ringtail refuse deposit in Vulture Cave. The desert tortoise, 8 species of lizards, 12 species of snakes, 68 species of birds, and 33 species of mammals are identified. Extinct animals include the avian carrion feeder, Teratornis merriami, and the mammalian herbivores, Oreamnos harringtoni, Camelops cf. hesternus, Equus sp., and Nothrotheriops shastense. There is no apparent abrupt end to the late Pleistocene as observed in the Grand Canyon fossil faunal or floral record. Animal and plant taxa of the Grand Canyon responded individually to the changes in climate of the last 30,000 yr. Both animal and plant fossil assemblages indicate that a pre-full glacial, a full glacial, and a late glacial woodland community with many less dominant desert taxa were slowly replaced by a Holocene desert community. All woodland taxa were absent from the lower elevations of the Grand Canyon by 8500 yr B.P.
Pikas (Ochtona)—small gnawing mammals, related to rabbits—range today throughout parts of the Northern Hemisphere, but had a wider distribution during the Pleistocene. Nine caves from northeastern North America (a region not occupied by pikas today) have Pleistocene deposits containing remains of Ochotona. We examine 526 fossil specimens (ranging in age from approximately 850,000 to 8670 yr B.P.) from five of these caves. Two morphological forms of Ochotona lived in northeastern North America during the late Pleistocene—a large species (probably O. whartoni) and a small species (probably O. princeps).Ochotona of glacial age are not necessarily indicative of talus slopes and mesic communities. O. princeps-like of the Irvingtonian of West Virginia were living with an amphibian-reptilian assemblage found in the area today, implying winters not much, if at all, colder than at present. Late glacial and postglacial change in climate south of the ice sheets in effect would have isolated Ochotona in eastern North America, where they were unable to retreat to the west or north. Whereas western pika had the option of moving up in elevation, into boreal islands, eastern forms became restricted to ever-diminishing habitats, culminating in extinction and extirpation. Radiocarbon ages imply that Ochotona lived in eastern North America during the late Pleistocene (late Rancholabrean) and into the earliest Holocene. We describe the youngest remains of Ochotona in eastern North America and the youngest for the extinct large form, O. whartoni.
One of the most intriguing episodes in the Quaternary evolution of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River, Arizona, was the development of vast lakes that are thought to have backed up behind lava erupted into the gorge. Stratigraphic evidence for these deep lava-dammed lakes is expectedly sparse. Possible lacustrine deposits at six areas in the eastern canyon yielded no compelling evidence for sediment deposited in a deep lake. At two of the sites the sediment was associated with late Quaternary spring-fed pools and marshes. Water-lain silt and sand at lower Havasu Creek was deposited ∼3000 cal yr ago. The deposit contains an ostracode assemblage similar to that living in the modern travertine-dammed pools adjacent to the outcrop. The second deposit, at Lees Ferry, formed in a spring-fed marsh ∼43,000 cal yr ago, as determined by 14C and amino acid geochronology. It contains abundant ostracode and mollusk fossils, the richest assemblages reported from the Grand Canyon to date. Our interpretation of these sediments as spring-fed deposits, and their relative youth, provides an alternative to the conventional view that deposits like these were formed in deep lava-dammed lakes that filled the Grand Canyon.
Teeth of northern bog lemming, Mictomys borealis, are reported from Cathedral and Smith Creek caves and represent the first Wisconsin remains of the genus from the Great Basin. Specimens from Cathedral Cave, Snake Range, are associated with U-series ages of 24,000 to 15,000 yr B.P. Previous work with pollen and packrat middens, dating to the same age as the Mictomys, indicate that Smith Creek Canyon contained a riparian, locally mesic community, including Picea engelmannii (spruce), Betula sp. (birch), Cercocarpus sp. (mountain mahogany), and Artemisia sp. (sagebrush) among other species. Exposed canyon slopes and the adjacent valley apparently contained a more xeric steppe community including sagebrush and Chenopodiineae species; rocky outcrop permitted Pinus flexilis (limber pine) and P. longaeva (bristlecone pine) to grow adjacent to Lake Bonneville or low in the canyon. The region apparently experienced a dry climate (not necessarily drier than today); however, Smith Creek Canyon was fed by glacial meltwater from Mt. Moriah. The northern bog lemming probably lived only in the riparian community and possibly on the north-facing slope below Cathedral Cave. Few canyons of the Snake Range would have had the unusually mesic conditions found in Smith Creek Canyon.
Sixty packrat middens were collected in Canyonlands and Grand Canyon National Parks, and these series include sites north of areas that produced previous detailed series from the Colorado Plateau. The exceptionally long time series obtained from each of three sites (> 48,000 14C yr BP to present) include some of the oldest middens yet discovered. Most middens contain a typical late-Wisconsinan glaciation mixture of mesic and xeric taxa, evidence that plant species responded to climate change by range adjustments of elevational distribution based on individual criteria. Differences in elevational range from today for trees and shrubs ranged from no apparent change to as much as 1200 m difference. The oldest middens from Canyonlands NP, however, differ in containing strictly xeric assemblages, including middens incorporating needles of Arizona single-leaf pinyon, far north of its current distribution. Similar-aged middens from the eastern end of Grand Canyon NP contain plants more typical of glacial climates, but also contain fossils of one-seed juniper near its current northern limit in Arizona. Holocene middens reveal the development of modern vegetation assemblages on the Colorado Plateau, recording departures of mesic taxa from low elevation sites, and the arrival of modern dominant components much later.
Identified dung and keratinous remains of large mammals are considered the most reliable materials to 14C date, when the initial question includes the application of the date to the time of local extirpation and extinction. The Colorado Plateau provides a unique preservation habitat (desiccation), found in greater abundance of deposits than anywhere else in North America. We review 20 localities from the Colorado Plateau that contain dung of megaherbivores. Seven species of herbivores were identified utilizing dung: Bison (bison), Equus (horse), “Euceratherium“ (shrubox), Mammuthus (mammoth), Nothrotheriops (ground sloth), Oreamnos (mountain goat) and Ovis (bighorn), and 79 14C dates were measured from the sites. Most sites contain additional associated 14C and U/Th dates on skeletal and botanical remains.
There is an apparent discrepancy in the reported data from Meadowcroft Rockshelter. Radiocarbon dates from Stratum IIa appear to indicate a Wisconsinan full-glacial occupation by man in the shelter. The recovered fauna and flora are discordant with other local Wisconsinan-age fossils.
The carbon isotope analyses reported here include all radiocarbon dates run on packrat middens in the United States and Mexico by the Arizona radiocarbon laboratory through October 1977. All samples described below report dates by CO2 (0.5 or 2.0L) counting. Age calculations are based on a 14C half-life of 5568 years, using 0.949 NBS oxalic acid as the modern value. Errors, based on counting statistics, are quoted to ± 1δ; infinite ages quoted to — 2δ.
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