Are we going the way of the glyptodon?

The bony armour of the glyptodon tail felt lighter than I thought it would. This ice age mammal could stretch out to nearly 3.5 metres and weigh in at two tonnes.

The bony armour of the glyptodon tail felt lighter than I thought it would. This ice age mammal could stretch out to nearly 3.5 metres and weigh in at two tonnes. This relative of the armadillo had a massive protective shell made up of hundreds of 2.5-cm-thick bone platelets. An adult’s shell easily measuring a metre and a half high could have been used, some paleontologists believe, as an emergency shelter by early hunters.

Andres Rindernecht, director of paleontology at Uruguay’s National Museum of Natural History, placed the glyptodon fossil back in its box as he continued to show my wife Eva and me through the dusty warren of shelves packed with thousands of sample cases and boxes earlier this month. The museum has been closed for some years to the public because of a lack of funding, space and staff to properly exhibit its collections.

Senor Rindernecht noted that evidence had not been found of human hunters butchering a glyptodon. Ancient kill sites such as Tibilo on the Sabana de Bogota in the northwest corner of the South American continent in Colombia, though, show first peoples hunting megafauna there, like mastodon, some 12,000 years ago. Stone tools found in the same strata of an Uruguayan dig as glyptodon bones certainly prove a human presence around the time these big creatures went extinct some 10,000 years ago.

What role did human predation play in the extinction of the megafauna of the Americas like the glyptodon and mammoth? Did our ancestors know what impact they were having on their environment? Did the pressure just to survive outweigh any other thought?

A new study, “Reconciling migration models to the Americas with the variation of North American native mitogenomes,” by Alessandro Achilli et al. in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences August 12th Early Edition highlights the complexity of the peopling of the Americas. Three different source populations for Native Americans have been identified in a recent genome-wide scan of Native American and Siberian groups.

However the theory which suggested that the “Americas were settled through three separate population movements whose identity was expressed in linguistic terms as Amerinds, Na-Dene, and Eskimo-Aleut speakers” appears “far too simplistic.” These researchers suggest that “analyses of these two latter haplogroups have led to the conclusion that they might have been carried to North America by Beringian populations. These arrived through the ice-free corridor between the Laurentide and Cordilleran ice sheets, either concomitantly or some time after the southward spread of the Beringian groups who were instead following the Pacific coastal route.”

When and by which ever route they came, they all shared a set of behaviours that by about 100,000 years ago had dramatically set our species apart from all other creatures on the planet, according to biologists Ajit Varki and Danny Brower in their new book Denial: Self-Deception, False Beliefs, and the Origins of the Human Mind. Symbolic art, grave and personal adornments demonstrated a breakthrough interest in humans perception of others they argued. This awareness led our ancient ancestors to the disturbing awareness of their own mortality. To calm this fear our species, they argue, developed the unique ability to deny reality, giving rise, among other things, eventually to religion and philosophy.

As Daisy Yuhas, reviewing their book in the September-October issue of Scientific American Mind, reflects the “gift for self-deception may have saved our ancestors from despair.” However this abilityto

blithely ignore reality can lead us to the precipice as well. Yuhas goes on optimistically to suggest that “recognizing this tendency in ourselves may push us to stop ignoring unpleasant truths, such as global warming and poverty, and start addressing them.”

However we got here, we should try to know where we are going. If we learn to face the facts of our current situation truthfully we may just avoid going the way of the glyptodon ourselves.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse.

Contact pazypan@yukon.net.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Fines for contravening the fire ban start at $1,150 and could go as high as $100,000. File photo
Yukon campgrounds will open on May 1 this year. (Black Press file)
Yukon campgrounds to open early

Yukon campgrounds will open on May 1 this year. The early opening… Continue reading

Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce executive director Susan Guatto and program manager Andrei Samson outside the chamber office in downtown Whitehorse Feb. 23. (Stephanie Waddell, Yukon News)
When business models shift

Whitehorse chamber offers digital marketing workshop

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: The aesthetics and economics of highway strips

One of the many cultural experiences you enjoy while driving from Whitehorse… Continue reading

Submitted
Artwork by Grade 2 student Faith showing her thanks for everyone.
Artwork by Grade 2 student Faith showing her thanks for everyone. (Submitted)
Yukon kids express gratitude for nature, pets and friends in art campaign

More than 50 children submitted artwork featuring things they are grateful for

Team Yukon skip Laura Eby, left, directs her team as Team Northern Ontario skip Krysta Burns looks on at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary on Feb. 22. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)
Team Yukon reports positive experience at Scotties

Team Yukon played their final game at the national championship in Calgary on Thursday afternoon

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

Most Read