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Extinction of the large mammals

10 000 years – 1 centimetre

The extinctions of large land mammals was the result of several factors – among others hunting and climate change. (Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images)

A large amount of ice age mammals go extinct and grass-plains start to grow forrest. First people settle Finland.

Extinction of megafauna

The retrieval of the latest ice age from the northern latitudes brings forth a large extinction wave for all the large vegetarian and predatory animals in Europe, North America, Australia, and Northern Asia. For instance, over 80 % of large mammals go extinct within a few thousand years in Northern America. The reason(s) for these large extinctions are not fully understood. It cannot be only due to the quick climate change, as the same species had endured similar or larger climate changes earlier during the Pleistocene.

The extinction is best explained to be caused both by the climate change, and by the early hunters. In many areas the extinctions occurred at the same time with the arrival of the hunter-gatherer communities, indicating that these events are inter-related. There are also stories of the large hunts, depicted in gave paintings and in the dwelling remains of the stone-age people. The dwelling sites bear a lot of bones of the large game animals, and in the region of current Ukraine, people even built dwellings of mammoth bones. For instance, the mammoth disappeared from the continental regions at the same time when the modern human expanded there.

Disappearance of the large foraging mammals caused large environmental changes: The large northern grass-plains, typical to Pleistocene, started to grow forest and turned into conifer-dominated forests, or, in cooler areas, into barren tundra. At the same time disappeared most of the animals that had adapted to live in these mammoth-steppes.

Settling Finland

After the retrieval of the glacier, the low lands of Scandinavia and Northern Europe remain under water. The up-lifting of the bedrock (after the strong pressure caused by the ice), and the lowering sea level gradually reveal increasing area of dry land, which soon become vegetated, first as tundra, and then by deciduous and conifer forests. Large game animals (moose, seal, deer) move into these areas, and these are followed by the hunting nomads. The first people settled in the Finnish coastal areas, and inland along the water ways, about 10 000 years ago.