What megafauna lived in North America prior to 11,000 B.C. according to Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Guns, Germs, and Steel, author Jared Diamond defines megafauna as big mammals. Most of the big animals, or megafauna, have been known to be in Africa; however, Eurasia also has some species of megafauna, such as rhinos, elephants, and tigers in Asia and moose, bears, and lions in Europe. The countries of Australia and New Guinea also used to have many megafauna, but those disappeared "after the arrival of humans" (p. 42). Such megafauna included "giant kangaroos, rhinolike marsupials called diprotodonts and reaching the size of a cow, and a marsupial 'leopard.'" (p. 42).

Diamond also speaks of some megafauna in the US, especially ones that have become extinct due to human activity. One example is the big flightless geese that used to inhabit Hawaii. He even compares the American West to Africa in terms of how many magafauna used to inhabit the American West and what kinds. Diamond argues that the American West used to have herds of elephants, horses, lions, cheetahs, camels, and even giant sloths, but all became extinct, just like in Australia and New Guinea (p. 47). He also states that a couple of different theories exist to explain the extinction. One theory is that hunting led to their extinction, just like in Australia and New Guinea. Others theorize that climate change led to their extinction; however, Diamond feels the hunting theory is far more accurate.

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caledon's profile pic

caledon | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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A more complete list than what Diamond provides would include the following species:

  • Bison
  • Horses
  • Camels
  • Mammoths
  • Mastodons
  • American Lion
  • American Cheetah
  • Saber-tooth Cat
  • Scimitar-tooth Cat
  • Short-faced Bear
  • Harlan's, Jefferson's, and Shasta Ground Sloth
  • Dire Wolves
  • Teratorns (vultures)

Diamond mentions "elephants", but mammoths are genetically distinct from elephants, and mastodons even moreso. Diamond may have used the word simply to convey the similarities to the modern ecology of Africa.

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vancali | Student, Grade 9 | (Level 1) Honors

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The mega-fauna that existed in North America prior to 11,000 B.C. included bison, mammoths, and giant land sloths.

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