Old bones unearth new date for giant deer's last stand

October 06, 2004

A new investigation into extinctions caused by climate change has revealed that the giant deer, previously thought to have been wiped out by a cold spell 10,500 years ago, instead survived well into the modern era.

University College London (UCL) scientists scoured the continent to collect dozens of ancient bones and teeth which, when radiocarbon dated, revealed that the Eurasian giant deer survived to 7,000 years ago, much later than previously thought.

Giant deer first appeared about 400,000 years and roamed much of the Eurasian continent alongside the woolly mammoth. The magnificent beasts - 2 metres in shoulder height with antlers spanning 3.5 metres - appear to have made their final stand in the Ural mountains on the boundary of Europe and Asia, possibly the last haven for a species which was being progressively wiped out by climate change and the spread of ice sheets, according to the study by UCL Professors Adrian Lister and Tony Stuart, published in the latest issue of Nature.

Unfortunately for these majestic beasts, the extra three thousand years takes them well into the modern era when Stone Age hunting was at its most refined. The question is, did early man develop an appetite for supersized deer?

Professor Adrian Lister says: "Although we can now bring the extinction date forward by 3,000 years or so, we still can't tell what actually killed off these beasts. Man could have been the ultimate destroyer, but climate change might also have been the culprit. This is the mystery we have yet to solve.

"A double-whammy of intense cold spells around 20,000 and 10,500 years ago had already taken their toll on these striking beasts. The last of the giant deer, squeezed out of Europe, seem to have taken refuge in the southern Ural mountains near the Black Sea. The next question we need to address is what finally killed them off, whether it was hunting, agricultural clearing of land or changes in climate or vegetation."

Up until 20,000 years ago the giant deer, Megaloceros giganteus Blumenbach, was found across the middle latitudes of Eurasia, from Ireland to east of Lake Baikal. The males would have had to feed extensively to sustain the annual growth of their huge antlers. Indeed, it is thought that the antlers would have prevented males from entering even moderately dense woods, at least for part of the year, and one former theory for their extinction was that the seasonal nutrient requirements for the antlers alone might have killed off the species.

Traditionally, woolly mammoths were believed to have gone extinct around the same time as the giant deer, together with all the other extinct 'Ice Age' beasts such as the woolly rhino and saber-toothed cat, between about 12,000 and 10,000 years ago. However, a recent discovery found that the mammoth survived on Wrangel, a remote arctic island, until 3,600 years ago. The latest discovery shows that the giant deer also broke through this 10,000 year barrier to enter the modern era.

University College London

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.