How Did Pre-Columbian Indians Exterminate Saber-Toothed Tigers?
A quarter of a century ago, Jared Diamond wrote a memorable magazine article, “Blitzkrieg and Thanksgiving in the New World,” about how awesome it must have been for proto-Indians who had crossed the Bering Strait from Siberia to finally find a corridor through the receding icefields of the Canadian Rockies and emerge, throwing spears in hand, onto the relatively warm Great Plains, with guileless megafauna stretching to the southern horizon, unaware of how dangerous these funny-looking newcomers were.
Pretty soon, most of the edible big beasts were extinct.
This is still often blamed on Climate Change, since, obviously, it must have been easier for mammoths and the like to survive in the Americas during the Ice Age when the future site of Chicago was buried under a mile of ice.
At West Hunter, Gregory Cochran points out the flip side of Diamond’s Happy Hunting Ground:
On the other hand… there were a lot of predators around, and they didn’t have any baked-in fear of humans either. Dire wolves, sabertooth tigers, scimitar cats, the American lion, short-faced-bears. Today, big predators in Africa and Eurasia know in their genes that Man is dangerous. In America, they probably thought that he was the weakest and most defenseless of all living things, and acted according. The life of those early Amerinds was thus full of interest.
Today, North American mountain lions (panthers, cougars, painters, pumas, etc.) really, really don’t like being around people. They’re quite dangerous when confronted by people, but they go out of their way to avoid confrontations.
Did this characteristic evolve over the last 10k to 15k years? Or were mountain lions, who, presumably, were pretty low on the predator totem pole before the Indians arrive always have a furtive manner?
In contrast, black bears are a little more at ease with people. It’s pretty common on Los Angeles news stations to show video of a black bear who has come down out of the hills for a swim in a backyard pool. The bear’s view of the traditional middle class Southern California lifestyle of a ranch house, backyard, and swimming pool, seems to be: “Cool! But how can they afford that?”
An increasingly good question shared by SoCal humans.
Here’s an LA Times article from a year ago on the famous puma, P-22, who has lived in 8 square mile Griffith Park since 2012 and not long ago ate a koala in the LA Zoo
Rangers caught him and put a tracking collar on him. But out of the 10,000+ who visit Griffith Park on the average day, only a tiny number see him, except for professionals with access to the real time tracking signal.
Wikipedia says the largest species of saber-toothed tiger, weighing up to 880 pounds, lived in South America.
Went extinct 10,000 years ago:
“Smilodon died out at the same time that most North and South American megafauna disappeared, about 10,000 years ago. Its reliance on large animals has been proposed as the cause of its extinction, along with climate change and competition with other species, but the exact cause is unknown.”
Yeah, obviously, that this terrifying beast went extinct just about when proto-Indian super-hunters from the Bering Strait arrived in South America is a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma.
Seriously, though, how did Indians take on these terrifying beasts?
Did Indians have the bow and arrow yet when they wiped out most megafauna in the New World?
Probably not, just the atlatl, an arm-extension for throwing spears further.
The bow-and-arrow was invented in the Old World, but took a long time to spread into the New World. A 2013 book suggests 200 AD as a point when it was clear the bow-and-arrow had reached the Great Plains. There aren’t a lot of big trees for making bows and arrow shafts near the Bering Strait (although there is some driftwood on the beaches), so it would have been expensive in the Arctic. One theory is that the latecomer Na-Dene (e.g., the Navajo who invaded the American southwest from Canada about 600 years ago) were the first to have the bow and arrow, and may have brought it from Siberia in a second wave into the New World.
Did they have dogs?
What would their strategy be? Capture prey alive and tie it to a tree in a defile and wait to ambush the predator? Have dogs find down the den and kill the kittens? Poison?
Are there parts of Asia, such as islands, where hunter-gatherers wiped out all the tigers?