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In this paper what will be examined is the work of Garfinkel et al. (2010) and Emery (2007) in terms of their individual findings regarding the impact of intrusive human populations within particular environments and their subsequent contribution towards the depletion and at times extinction of certain animal species. The study of Emery (2007) focused primarily on Mayan society between the years 2000 BC and AD 1697.
Emery (2007) utilized zooarcheological studies and findings as the primary method of evaluation regarding the impact of human civilization on animal species during this specific period of time with a particular emphasis on big game animals such as Odocoileus virginianus and their correlation with the foraging of smaller animal species (Emery 2007: 1-10).
Garfinkel et al. (2010) on the other hand focused on the Numic and Pre-Numic cultures that existed within the Coso Range in eastern California prior to 1500 B.C. The Pre-Numic culture evidently vanished as a result of depletion of the game species within the immediate area, particularly the big horned sheep, which Garfinkel et al. (2010) connects with intense competition for land and resources from the Numic culture that migrated into the valley several hundred years prior ((Garfinkel, et al 2010: 1-12).
Unlike Emery (2007), Garfinkel et al. (2010) utilizes the various examples of rock art within the Coso valley which depicts various animal species and rituals as the studies primary method of examination regarding the impact of the Numic and Pre-Numic civilization on the indegenous animal population.
The main difference between Garfinkel et al. (2010) and Emery (2007) (aside from the cultures they examined) is the method in which they each arrived at their individual conclusions.
Garfinkel et al. (2010) examined the ages of the of animal rock art within the Coso valley and connected their increased proliferation over the years leading up to 1500 B.C. with the subsequent decrease of the big horned sheep population (as well as other key prey species) resulting in the disappearance of the Pre-Numic culture ((Garfinkel, et al 2010: 1-12).
Emery (2007) examined zooarcheological indicating a shift from large animal species towards smaller prey species within the diet of the Mayan civilization as indicative of overharvesting of key species such as Odocoileus virginianus.
The main similarity between the work of Garfinkel et al. (2010) and Emery (2007) is that both works emphasize on how societal culture played an important role in the decimation of local animal species. As Garfinkel et al. (2010) explains, the increasing proliferation of animal representations prior to 1500 B.C. when the Pre-Numic civilization vanished was an indication of the greater cultural significance of rare kills due to harder to find prey animals.
Despite their inherent cultural tradition of respect for animals, the aboriginal people at the time actually made no systematic efforts whatsoever to conserve the game species that were important aspects of their culture (Garfinkel, et al 2010: 1-2). As certain key species such as the big horned sheep got rarer, the greater the prestige and acclaim given to hunters for such kills due to the communal method of sharing the results of a hunt.
This heightened the subsequent power and leadership roles given to hunters that were successful and as a result dissuaded the subsequent shift towards hunting a different type of prey species that were more plentiful but gave less societal acclaim. This is evidence of the subsequent impact that societal culture had on the decimation of animal species since it shows how the desire for social positions dissuaded hunters from conserving certain species.
Emery (2007) presents an almost similar viewpoint in her study when she points out that as the Mayan civilization grew in size and complexity this led to the development of a form of social stratification with the “elites” on the top and the normal citizens below. Just as the present day “elitist” half of society favors particular types of “rich food” (i.e. lobster, Blue fin tuna, Kobe Beef, caviar etc.) so too did the elite of Mayan civilization prefer particular types of prey species.
This led to hunters concentrating on particular types of large game instead of smaller prey species due to the higher perceived value such species had within their culture at the time. Inevitably this led to the decimation of large prey species such as Odocoileus virginianus (Emery 2007: 1-10).
Types of Animals that are likely to be killed off by Humans
Based off the work of Garfinkel et al. (2010) and Emery (2007) it can be seen that animal species that have a distinct socio-cultural significance within a particular society (especially for the elite), such as the big horned sheep in Pre-Numic culture, are more likely to be killed off as compared to other types of species.
This is due to the greater degree of demand, prestige and societal acclaim that hunting these particular types of species brings. This can actually still be seen in the present wherein the Japanese have continued to harvest Blue Fin tuna despite the continued warning of various marine biologists and various countries that Japan is hunting the fish to extinction.
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Their justification behind such actions is supposedly due to the cultural significance Blue Fin tuna has within their society and that it constitutes a major part of their diet. In reality the price of Blue Fin tuna is so exorbitant that it is usually the elite that consume it which is quite similar to what occurred in the ancient Mayan civilization and their consumption of Odocoileus virginianus.
Conditions for Human Caused Extinction to Take Place
From the combined perspective of Garfinkel et al. (2010) and Emery (2007), it can be stated that the conditions by which human caused extinction takes place for particular animal species is based on the following factors occurring:
- The continued expansion of a particular society to the point that increasing amounts of land and animal resources are needed to sustain it.
- Lack of sufficient societal will to conserve a species by switching to an alternative prey sources despite the obvious depletion of the species.
- The development of social stratification within particular societies wherein the hunting/consumption of particular prey species is associated with being in such positions.
- Lastly, competition by various societies over one species which can lead to its overconsumption and subsequent extinction.
Human Caused Extinction or Climate Change
The best way in order to tell whether a particular species was depleted as a result of human activity or climate change is to examine the zooarcheological findings when examining the various sites of certain societies and correlating it with the importance of a particular species within a culture. The more in demand it was and the greater the number of bones within the sites, the more likely that species was hunted into extinction.
Emery, Kitty F. 2007 Assessing the impact of ancient Maya animal use. Journal for Nature Conservation 15: 184-195.
Garfinkel, Alan P., et al. 2010 Bighorn hunting, resource depression, and rock art in the Coso
Range, eastern California: a computer simulation model. Journal of Archaeological Science 37: 42-51.