The Ice Age Twenty thousand years ago during the time of the last ice age period, many colossal mammals roamed North America. They survived during the times when much of the earth was covered by immense large bodies of ice that buried forests, fields, and mountains, but rapidly became extinct after the ice began to retreat and melt. Since then the human race has introduced many different theories to explain the extinction of these large mammals. One theory stands above all and explains the truth of this mysterious disappearance. The Paleo Indians that entered North America from Asia, the climate change, soil, vegetation and water levels were all major factors in this extinction.
The results of these factors left the biggest impact on the food chain of these animals. The domino-effect of all these factors is responsible for the extinction of the ice age mammals. Animals, like all other living organisms have a tendency to adapt to the environment in which they live. A cold climate favors large animals, since large animals have more body fat and lose heat at a slower rate then do smaller animals. That is why many of the mammals that lived during the ice age were enormous. These large animals consisted of ground sloths and armadillos which came northward from South America, and horses, saber-toothed cats, mammoths, antelopes, and muskoxen that crossed over the land bridge from Asia into North America.
For the longest time fossils from many parts of North America were the only evidence that many of these large beasts had once roamed the land, but in the spring of 1846 an unbelievable event happened that brought the world a step closer to the mystery of this great extinction. A Russian explorer Benkendorf and his survey team from Russia were heading for the mouth of the Indigirka River in Siberia. When they reached the spot of their destination, the land had disappeared and everything had changed. Left behind was two miles wide of torn up land, and wild waters carrying rapidly masses of peat and loam. In the mixture of the mess they seemed to notice what was once one of the mammoths who roamed the earth during the ice ages.
(Chorlton 53) Our patience was tried. At last, however, a huge black horrible mass bobbed up out of the water. We beheld a colossal elephants head, armed with mighty tusks, its long trunk waving uncannily in the water, as though seeking something it had lost. Breathless with astonishment, I beheld the monster hardly 12 feet away, with the white of his half-open eyes showing. ‘A mammoth! A mammoth!’ someone shouted. (Chorlton 54) An elephant with a body covered with thick fur about thirteen feet in height and fifteen in length with tusks eight feet long that curved outward at the end.
It had a trunk six feet long and colossal legs one and a half feet thick. The beast was fat and well grown. The outer hair was like wool, very soft, warm and thick, it was definitely well protected from the cold.(Chorlton 54) Unfortunately the mammoth soon began to decay and was swept away by the rapid waters. This dramatic find brought the world face to face with one of the great mysteries of the ice age, the sudden extinction of the great colossal mammals. These large mammals at one time lived in peace and survived gracefully for thousands of years, they adapted to the cold climate and tundra surrounding them. With an adequate food chain and nothing to affect it they were bound to survive forever, but because of simple changes that eventually triggered many other factors these animals are extinct and will never be on this earth again. When the massive continental glaciers locked up great quantities of water, the sea levels lowered which exposed parts of the shallow sea floor, therefore, the Bering Strait did not exist. Eleven thousand, years ago many Paleo Indians were able to cross the land bridge between Asia and North American which enabled them to populate North America.
The great amount of large animals attracted these people to the frozen waste lands. In all hunting that ends with the extermination of a species, the motivation is never hunger. Money, and the greed for it, have been the incentive. The savage does not know these, he hunts to eat and so is unable to decimate the big game to any important extent (Cornwall 117) The large mammals of North American were never exposed to the intellectual minds of human beings. Therefore, this drastic change of humans living on their land and feeding on there own kind was a big change. These animals were like helpless ants and had no way to protect themselves from human beings. Due to their unintelligence they were very easily killed, by being surrounded or by using fire to track them in the direction they were intended to go.
Deadly spears have been found in the remains of many of these giant animals, this was the Indians only way of survival. From hunting these mammals weapons, shelters and clothing were made. Animals bones and tusks were often used for weapons, and homes were built out of bones, tusks and were covered with animals hides. The left over carcasses of these animals were often burned for light and heat in the frigid climate. In many parts of North America archaeologists found large storage pits, where these Indians stored fresh meat. It is obvious that even though the Paleo Indians lived off these giant game animals there is no possible way they were single handedly responsible for their extinction, the climate was also another big factor.
As the glaciers retreated the tundra zone moved much further north which forced these animals to move northward. A succession of warm, wet springs wiped out many of these animals as they moved northward on their regular springtime migrations. Hundreds of giant mammals have been found over the years frozen in an upright position. “The ground on which the animals stepped gave way under the weight of the giant and he sank as he stood, on all four feet.” (Kurten 36) They gradually sank down when the permafrost in the tundra area thawed which turned a lot of areas into huge bogs. Many other animals were simply separated from each other by being trapped as the glaciers melted and separated.
They were left alone with no food and eventually died. (Kurten) The cool but equable climate of the ice age gave way to the warmer, more seasonable climate of the Holocene epoch. The rapid environmental switch from glacial to interglacial caused the forests and grasslands to shrink for a period of time. This might have disrupted the food chain of several of the large mammals. Deprived of their nutritional resources, they simply disappeared. ( Erickson 57) These mammals were experiencing very drastic changes, every thing around them seemed to be moving and the simple things like the food they ate was difficult to find and if they could find it, they were lucky if it was in a good eating condition.
This was because the climate has an unbelievably great effect on the soil. As is still the case today, the tundra soil was frozen solid for much of the year, but with the little warmth of the Arctic summer the permafrost could thaw a few inches to a few feet. This would allow grasses, lichens, flowers, mosses and shrubs to grow and feed the plant eaters. The rest of the year, they lived off the left over twigs, shoots and lichens hidden beneath the snow. As the glaciers retreated what used to be permafrost was now thawing, that could be a good factor considering that now the soil can support vegetation that requires a longer growing season.
But with the retreat of the ice came a dry period and many spruce forests were replaced by pine and hardwood. This crisis seemed to effect the grassland fauna more then the forest animals. They were used to available grassland all year long, even in the winter the snow was shallow enough to reach the underlying grassland. But with the sea levels rising because of the melting glaciers many of the grassland areas were flooded which killed the vegetation. All animals are directly or indirectly dependent on plants and since the vegetation depends on climate and soil, the food that these animals were used to surviving on was slowly disappearing. The vegetation these mammals ate was coarse and poor nutritional value, which meant they needed vast quantities of food. This caused a tremendous problem because the retreat of the ice left a limited amount of food and many animals starved to death.
The tundra, extending across the northern part of North America was home to many of the giant mammal of the Ice Age. Mammoths, bison, horses, muskoxen, camels, caribou, and other plant eaters, along with cats, wolves and bears that preyed on them. The drastic change of plant life as the climate had greatly changed, affected the eating habits of many of the plant eaters. This made them more vulnerable to hunting and a lot weaker to defend themselves from predators. Once these animals started to become extinct the carnivores which preyed on them started to diminish in population because of the lack of prey in the area. Some of these animals such as horses, camels, wolves and bears are alive today, but they have come from other parts of the world that did not experience such dramatic changes as the ice retreated thousands of years ago.
It is probable that causes more general and powerful than the agency of men, alterations in climate, variations in the range of many species of animals, vertebrate and invertebrate, and of plants, geographical changes in the height, depth, and extent of land and sea, or all of these combined, have given rise in the vast series of years to the annihilation of many large mammalia. (Imbrie 17) Today we are furthermore uncovering discoveries of the intriguing mysteries that the ice age has left upon us. Everyday the amount of human knowledge on Earth increases rapidly, the ice ages only being a microscopic part of this ample space of knowledge. There is no doubt though that the ice ages has brought the earth many physical changes, both devastating and captivating. The extinction of the colossal mammals being one of them. Which is due to the domino-effect of many factors including, the Paleo Indians entering North America, climate change, soil, vegetation, water levels and food chain of the animals lives being effected.
These mammals not knowing how to react slowly began to vanish from the earth.