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Pleistocene Mammals of North America

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Pleistocene Mammals of North America

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Pleistocene Mammals of North America Pleistocene Mammals of North America (Hardcover)


Columbia University Press
Book Format
Original Languages
Number of Pages
Bjorn Kurten
Publication Date
September, 1980
Assembled Product Dimensions (L x W x H)
10.32 x 7.31 x 1.50 Inches

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Background: If youre ...

Background: If you're already familiar with Pleistocene chronology, you can skip this part. When I was in college in the 1970s, continental glacial chronology was settled. There were four glacial eras - the Wisconsinan (most recent), Illinoian, Kansan and Nebraskan (if you were in Europe, the corresponding periods were Würm, Riss, Mindel and Günz). Corresponding warm periods between glaciations in North America were Sangamonian, Yarmouthian, and Aftonian. This had been worked out by observing abundant evidence of recent continental glaciation - as the name implies, there's a lot in Wisconsin - and then tracking down cases of older glaciation. The catch is glaciers are giant ice bulldozers, so geologists had to find cases where the Wisconsinan glaciers hadn't overrode and obliterated the earlier (Illinoian) evidence, and then cases where the Illinoian glaciers hadn't swept the Kansan moraines away, and finally places where Kansan glaciers had left the Nebraska deposits untouched. As you might expect, the evidence for earlier glaciations were isolated and disconnected (since the later ones had usually erased them); however, the four glacial periods had been worked out in Europe and therefore were found in North America. I had to memorize the North American and European names, their correlation, and approximate time periods for a Pleistocene archaeology class. It didn't last. It turned out oxygen isotope ratios in fossil marine organisms gave a more accurate idea of when glacial advances and retreats occurred (explaining why would be subject for another long essay; you can look it up). Thus, nowadays Pleistocene time divisions are usually given as MIS (Marine Isotope Stage) numbers, and there are a whole lot more than four; the earlier geologists were misled into thinking the various isolated deposits from pre-Wisconsinan glaciations were actually correlated. The next thing we need background on is North American Land Mammal Ages. Geological periods are defined based on fossil assemblages - on the appearance or disappearance of a particular fossil organism or group of organisms. This is because the relative ages were worked out in 18th and 19th century, long before the discovery of radiometric dating methods that could give absolute ages; it is still usual to assign a rock unit to a geological period based on fossils, since beds suitable for radiometric dating aren't always available. Most geological time boundaries are based on marine fossils, often microscopic marine fossils. The catch is this doesn't work for fossils found in terrestrial deposits - you're not going to find any marine foraminifera in the middle of Kansas. You might very well find mammal bones, however; thus, the North American Pleistocene is divided into land mammals ages based on the usual fossil finds - the Blancan (which overlaps the Pleistocene/Pliocene boundary); the Irvingtonian, and the Rancholabrean. Perhaps it's useful to think of these are analogous to cultural periods in European history; it can be more useful to speak of an art style or cultural attitude as "Renaissance" rather than giving a specific date - "1550", for example - with the implicit understanding that "Renaissance" applies to Europe only; it doesn't do any goods to talk about "Renaissance China". So it is with the NALMA - "Irvingtonian" is useful for talking about a suite of fossils, with the understanding that there might not be a specific date involved and the term doesn't apply to - for example - Central Europe. OK, we had to get that out of the way because Kurtén and Anderson's Pleistocene Mammals of North America was published in 1980, when there were still assumed to be four glacial cycles in the Pleistocene. Thus, fossil faunas are often described as (for example) "Sangamonan" or "Illinoian". But they are usually also described by the NALMA, which is still useful. The book is organized first by NALMA period - listing Blancan, then Irvingtonian, then Rancholabrean sites by state and province, describing what's been found at each location. Then, each mammal group present in North America in the Pleistocene gets a chapter, from Marsupalia to Primates. Kurtén and Anderson are still phyletic taxonomists; "clade" doesn't show up in the index. However, they do caution that mammalogists are notorious species splitters; since a great deal of mammalian taxonomy is based on teeth, this is especially true for groups with complicated teeth that have a lot of potential taxonomic characters, like artiodactyls and perissodactyls. Prothero in The Evolution of North American Rhinoceroses notes a case where differential tooth wear resulted in two halves of a rhinoceros jaw being assigned to different species; Kurtén and Anderson have a case where a species was based on the impression of a tooth in clay. They note this with polite academic disapproval. Probably the most interesting thing for me was the extent of faunal interchange between Eurasia and North America. Humans are the most obvious, but a number of other groups came from Beringia during one of the ice-free periods: red fox (Vulpes Vulpes; jaguars (Pantera once); brown, grizzly, and polar bears (Ursus arctos, Ursus horribilis, Ursus maritimus), elk (Cervus elaphus; note that the animal called an "elk" in Europe is called a "moose" in North America; the animal called an "elk" in North America is called a "wapiti" in Europe, but is genetically the same species as European red deer); mountain goat (Oreamnos americanus; Dall and bighorn sheep (Ovis dalli and Ovis canadensis); and bison (Bison priscus, which eventually evolved into Bison latifrons, Bison antiquus,and Bison bison; in that regard it's interesting that the extant Bison bison is the smallest of these, which will be a considerable surprise to anybody who's been close to one). A number of groups made it to North America only to eventually go extinct here; saiga, hyenas, dholes, lions, and elephants. Going the other way were camels, horses, and cheetahs; camels went extinct in North America but survive in South America as llamas, vicunas, alpacas, and guanacos, and horses went extinct to be reintroduced by conquistadores thousands of years later. Cheetahs apparently share an ancestor with pumas, which originated in South America and moved north. Interestingly enough, the North American hyena had dentition more like a wolf than the Old World forms, possibly because the bone-crunching scavenger niche was already occupied by the dire wolf. There was also a lot of exchange between North and South America. At one time, conventional wisdom was that North American mammals had overwhelmed the South American forms, but in fact a lot of typical South American mammals once made it as far north as the southern tier of US states, including tapirs, edentates (sloths and armadillos), and capybaras. Definitely a reference work; lots of illustrations but almost all of bones and teeth; plenty of distribution maps; very well indexed, including author, species, and general. Quite pricey.

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Electrode, Comp-505166034, DC-prod-az-southcentralus-5, ENV-prod-a, PROF-PROD, VER-30.0.3, SHA-fe0221a6ef49da0ab2505dfeca6fe7a05293b900, CID-4b2b882a-b35-16e816e0cbeec4, Generated: Tue, 19 Nov 2019 02:11:43 GMT