Why did the buffalo cross the land bridge?

To get to the other side…

Guest post by David Middleton


“There has long been a controversy about the timing of bison arrival in North America,” said Shapiro. Bison arrival in North America marks the beginning of what geologists call the “Rancholabrean Land Mammal Age,” which is used to discriminate between different ecological periods in the continent’s history. “Until recently, the fossil records from different parts of North America disagreed with each other, with a few fossil localities suggesting that bison arrived millions of years ago, but most old fossil sites showing no evidence of bison at all,” Shapiro said. As new methods to date fossil localities emerged, the ages of the sites in North America with purportedly very old fossil bison have all been questioned, leaving the timing of bison arrival a mystery.

The new study explored fossil locations in Northern North America — the entry point for bison into the continent — and extracted DNA from two of the oldest bison fossils known on the continent. One from Ch’ijee’s Bluff in the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in northern Yukon, and another from Snowmass, Colorado.

“Bison used what is called the Bering Land Bridge — a vast connection of land between Asia and North America — to cross from Asia into North America. The land bridge forms during ice ages, when much of the water on the planet becomes part of growing continental glaciers, making the sea level much lower than it is today,” explained Shapiro. “After they arrived in Alaska, they spread quickly across the continent, taking advantage of the rich grassland resources that were part of the ice age ecosystem.”

While bison were not introduced by humans to North America, their rapid spread and diversification are hallmarks of an invasive species — and part of what make bison’s role in the Great Plains ecosystem so significant. “Bison arrived in North America and quickly came to dominate a grazing ecosystem that was previously reigned over by horses and mammoths for one million years,” said Shapiro.


Eureka Alert

So… These guys were actually doing the right thing by trying to wipe out an invasive species…


“Let them kill, skin, and sell until the buffalo is exterminated, as it is the only way to bring lasting peace and allow civilization to advance.” – General Philip Sheridan

It’s fascinating how extreme climate changes and intercontinental migrations of invasive species could have routinely happened before humans discovered fire and invented capitalism… Fascinating.


The paper is paywalled; here’s the abstract…

Fossil and genomic evidence constrains the timing of bison arrival in North America

Duane Froesea,1, Mathias Stillerb,c, Peter D. Heintzmanb, Alberto V. Reyesa, Grant D. Zazulad, André E. R. Soaresb, Matthias Meyere, Elizabeth Halld, Britta J. L. Jensena,f, Lee J. Arnoldg, Ross D. E. MacPheeh, and Beth Shapirob,i,1

Author Affiliations

Edited by Donald K. Grayson, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, and approved February 3, 2017 (received for review December 20, 2016)


The appearance of bison in North America is both ecologically and paleontologically significant. We analyzed mitochondrial DNA from the oldest known North American bison fossils to reveal that bison were present in northern North America by 195–135 thousand y ago, having entered from Asia via the Bering Land Bridge. After their arrival, bison quickly colonized much of the rest of the continent, where they rapidly diversified phenotypically, producing, for example, the giant long-horned morphotype Bison latifrons during the last interglaciation.


The arrival of bison in North America marks one of the most successful large-mammal dispersals from Asia within the last million years, yet the timing and nature of this event remain poorly determined. Here, we used a combined paleontological and paleogenomic approach to provide a robust timeline for the entry and subsequent evolution of bison within North America. We characterized two fossil-rich localities in Canada’s Yukon and identified the oldest well-constrained bison fossil in North America, a 130,000-y-old steppe bison, Bison cf. priscus. We extracted and sequenced mitochondrial genomes from both this bison and from the remains of a recently discovered, ∼120,000-y-old giant long-horned bison, Bison latifrons, from Snowmass, Colorado. We analyzed these and 44 other bison mitogenomes with ages that span the Late Pleistocene, and identified two waves of bison dispersal into North America from Asia, the earliest of which occurred ∼195–135 thousand y ago and preceded the morphological diversification of North American bison, and the second of which occurred during the Late Pleistocene, ∼45–21 thousand y ago. This chronological arc establishes that bison first entered North America during the sea level lowstand accompanying marine isotope stage 6, rejecting earlier records of bison in North America. After their invasion, bison rapidly colonized North America during the last interglaciation, spreading from Alaska through continental North America; they have been continuously resident since then.


The Rancholabrean Land Mammal Age is the little sliver at the top of this stratigraphic column.  It’s labeled “RLB”…



More than you ever wanted to know about the Rancholabrean Land Mammal Age.

Useless Bison Triva

  • American buffalo aren’t buffalo.  They are bison.
  • Buffalo wings aren’t made from buffalo or bison.  They actually do taste like chicken.
  • The Buffalo Bisons is either a redundant or an oxymoronic name for a minor league baseball team.
  • Bison once ranged from Alaska to the U.S. east coast, perhaps even in present day Buffalo NY.

American bison historical distribution. Click here for current detailed distribution. ————————————————————-http://library.sandiegozoo.org/factsheets/bison/bison.htm

Featured Image Source



newest oldest most voted
Notify of

Very interesting. The question then is whether bison actually wiped out the mammoths due their feeding habits. If bison feeding habits caused a change in vegetation then they may have been responsible for the mass extinction.


Mammoth, horse and bison coexisted until the Holocene. They shared the steppe-tundra and grasslands just as do elephant, zebra and wildebeest on the East African savanna today.

There were other megafauna in the mix as well, to include saiga antelope. Woolly rhinos however didn’t make it out of Siberia to North America, aka Eastern Beringia. Many of the predators, such as the cave lion, were also akin to those of the African plains, while others were different. Like rhinos, cave hyenas also remained in Eurasia.


Holy Bison Batman! Chimp, we posted similar comments 1 minute apart!


The wildebeest and the elephants seem to be coexisting quite well across the African Savanna. Relative population size changes are more probably because wildebeest isn’t very tasty and ivory is in high demand.


The Gangetic Plain of India also once housed a similar congregation of species. The Asian elephant is more closely related to mammoths than their African cousin.

The mammoth steppe extended from Britain to Newfoundland at times of glacial retreat, ie interstadials. North American predators were however more nightmarish even than those of Eurasia, despite lacking the cave hyena.

The cave lion was similar to its Eurasian kin, but the more southerly American lion was bigger and smarter than any other lion, then or now. Two species of sabre-toothed cat shared the continent. Smilodon, the more southerly species, was smaller than the mostly Eurasian Homotherium. Tigers lived in the woodlands and leopards prowled the dark in various habitats.

Although the cave bear was absent (I think), there were two species of short-faced bear, one big horse-sized, besides the still extant grizzly, polar and brown bears. In addition to larger than present wolves, there was the even bigger dire wolf. In this ferocious environment, humans welcomed outcast wolves living off the offal of their camps, if nothing else as an alarm system against leopards stalking the night. Hence, dogs.

george e. smith

Wadya mean Gnu’s aren’t tasty ?

Try eating savannah grass instead.


Crispin in Waterloo but really in Bishkek

George E

I don’t know about gnus but I can assure everyone that a kudu is delicious. Kudu mnqusho (samp and beans + kudu stew). Best horns too.


Kudu are bovines, belonging to the same subfamily and family as bison, cattle and buffalo.


In Australia – a bison is something you wash your fice in – 🙂

Javert Chip

Gloria’s sty, mate.


you meant New Zealand using that vowel set, mate;-)
In Aus its a sink


You’ve got me buffalo’ed.


I’m still trying to figure out how animals migrated over an arctic land bridge..in the middle of an ice age…with no food or water for months


There was ample to abundant food and water. Some migrated in and out of Beringia seasonally, as do caribou today. Others overwintered. Bison are adapted to shovel snow aside to get at grass beneath it.

Beringia was a steppe-tundra, not a barren waste. Even a polar desert can support reindeer and musk oxen. Reindeer and caribou can survive and even thrive on little but lichen on rocks. They’re also almost omnivorous, since they’ll eat mice.

So no mystery how bison and other Eurasian animals managed to enter ice age North America.


Recent sediment cores from the shallow northern Bering Sea shelf confirms ice age vegetation found on unsubmerged regions of Beringia:


Evidence for a glacial refugium in south-central Beringia using modern analogs: a 152.2 kyr palynological record from IODP Expedition 323 sediment

Westbrook, Rachel E.


l believe the reason why Alaska/ NE Russia became a haven for wildlife during the ice age was due to the weather at the time. The type of jet stream patterning that was driving cold air down across much of North America. Would have been pushing up warm air into the Arctic across Alaska area from the south to replace it. Which was keeping the climate of that area fairly warm.

george e. smith

Say Chimp.

Apparently the entry to North America was more coastal than land, evidently land blockage by ice sheets.

In any case, it seems they arrived in the West first, and migrated elsewhere.

Apparently NO Clovis points in PNW, so Clovis technology either developed in the east (Yankee ingenuity) or imported from EurAsiFrica.

So how did the western coastal illegal immigrants feed their way to the East, without Clovis points.

Seems like the densest pile of Clovis points is in the central East; Carolinas etc.

And evidently the Native American common gene came from Uzbekistan, and went all the way to Patagonia.

How far back Bonobo and Chimp parted ways ??




Common chimps and bonobos appear to have split about two million years ago. But since then, despite the barrier of the Congo River, which separates their ranges, at least two instance of hybridization have occurred.

Two (or maybe more) possible explanations for the geographic distribution of Clovis culture exist. One is that a new wave of immigrants brought the complex with them from Asia after the ice sheets started retreating. That after all was the original explanation for Clovis, ie the “ice-free corridor” hypothesis.

The other is that it was developed in North America, although there is a similar Eurasian blade technology of the right age in Eastern Europe and Asia, ie more recent than the Solutrean of Western Europe. No reason why a similar flint-knapping technique could not have been developed repeatedly during the Late Paleolithic.

The microblade technology used by the earliest Alaskans (Eastern Beringians) was shared from North China right across Eastern Siberia, where the latest study has found it to have originated, as opposed to China.


About the microblade technology – we have collected artifacts and chert tools from N-Africa and they dated to 220ka – in the same places of the axes, etc – there was a myriad of spear tips as well as microblades. These blades had all sorts of shapes and sizes and looked more sophisticated that most “miroblades” published from N-hemisphere late Paleolithic time. Obviously we did not target those small “pieces” for dating but they were always around so called “work-stations” were people must have prepared axes, tips, and other tools from the chert nodules weathered out of the limestones. Hence, I have the feeling this is a very old technology and has been around for a long time but we just have not placed an emphasis on tracking down their first usage. But then, this is not my field of expertise so what do I know. Thanks for all the educational comments Chimp!!


It is most likely that most Clovis points can be found under water. The coastal area must have been much lower than today.


“There was ample to abundant food and water. Some migrated in and out of Beringia seasonally, as do caribou today. Others overwintered.”

So humans just followed the herds.


March 15, 2017 at 4:13 am

That’s very interesting. That is a long time ago for such advanced stone-working. Anatomically modern humans might be older than 200,000 years. I’d like to see a write-up of your discoveries.

It can be hard to distinguish microblades from waste chips. The specific form of microblade found in Late Paleolithic NE Asia and NW America is pretty characteristic. Because they sometimes used bone handles, we also know how at least some of them were mounted into knives. Many also can be used as burins.


Yes. A lot of Clovis points must be underwater, especially on the Atlantic coast. There is less continental shelf on the Pacific, except under the northern Bering Sea, ie former south central Beringia. The Channel Islands of SoCal and the northern Sea of Cortez are exceptions. The Gulf of CA is remarkably deep in its southern reaches.


Just look at Google satellite of Alaska Bering area…It’s a shallow sea. So when sea levels fell 130 meters during the ice ages it becomes land… So from Dutch Harbor on Unalaska island right across to Russia would have been dry land during the ice age… I wonder were all the King crabs went?….. 🙂


If so it took them 180 000 years. And in any case bison and mammoth coexisted for a million years or more in Eurasia.

Tom Halla

So if bison were relatively recent immigrants to the Americas, their ancestors would conceivably be not naive as human prey, and not as affected as the other large fauna that disappeared with human habitation circa 12000 years ago.


If the fossils were found near the land bridge, what are the odds of those fossils being recent immigrants, with other bison further inland being from earlier migrations?

Wow- 13 authors and one editor- must be an “institute” or “centre of excellence”. Sharing the gravy and enhancing the chances of one of the authors to get the next grant for the “group”? Bet they all march together in the “science parade”.

john harmsworth

Naw! No mention of Climate Change. Pretty hard to take it seriously if they can’t even scam for funding!


It’s fascinating how extreme climate changes and intercontinental migrations of invasive species could have routinely happened before humans discovered fire and invented capitalism… Fascinating.

It’s actually very simple. If it happened before 1760, it’s a natural event. If it happened after 1760, it’s man-made global warming.

“…it’s man-made global warming”

…which causes the climate to change, which in turn causes bad weather.

And that’s on top of the bad weather we were already going to get.

It’s a crisis. Let’s adjust some temperature records!



Oh Wow!
Bad Andrew is NOT a cynic.
At All.
Not in any way.
Not in any fibre of his being.
NOT a cynic.

/SARC. Big Sarc, actually. Did you guess, Mods?
Of course you did . . . . . . .
And thanks again for your work.

Bruce Cobb

We humans are the biggest “invasive species” of all.

Ian W

A little hubris.
Ants, termites and cockroaches seem to be at least as good as humans. Ants and Termites actually generate more CO2 than human activities too.


In order to become an invasive species ants, termites and cockroaches had to hitch a ride with us humans.
PS: You forgot rats.


And proud of it baby.


The land bridge was pretty big and was a complete ecosystem. It was called Beringia It wasn’t just a migratory route.

Myron Mesecke

And today’s modern horses in North America could also be considered an invasive species, though one brought in by man (Spaniards). Ancient North American horses died out. While today’s horse is genetically similar to ancient horses I still think it appropriate to call today’s romantically embraced “wild” horses to be feral horses. Along the line of feral hogs and feral Nutria.


Why did the buffalo cross the land bridge?

To get to the other side, of course.


And you know how to tell a buffalo from a bison, right?

you can’t wash your hands in a buffalo…


That’s very Brummy Grif

The large water tanks on wheels used by America’s military are known as buffalos.

Wash your hands at the back and don’t touch the spigot.

Javert Chip


You’re an expert on Buffalo, too?

Gunga Din

Griff March 14, 2017 at 8:18 am
And you know how to tell a buffalo from a bison, right?

you can’t wash your hands in a buffalo…

David Middleton gave you a well deserved “rim-shot” for that comment.
Nice you have a sense of humor.
For those who hold the most extreme of your basic “world view”, the world will end tomorrow because of Man.
I’d rather go out laughing.


“After they arrived in Alaska, they spread quickly across the continent, taking advantage of the rich grassland resources that were part of the ice age ecosystem.”

There were rich grasslands in Alaska during an ice age? I thought the ice was miles thick in places. Where were these rich grasslands, and what did they eat on their way across the frozen land bridge until they could find the grasslands?


Beringia was largely ice-free for a couple of reasons. The Brooks and Chugach Mountain Ranges supported large glacial systems, but the Yukon Valley and coastal plains (now largely submerged under the Bering and Chukchi Seas) were not covered in ice. There was extensive glaciation in Siberia to the west and the North American Cordilleran Ice Sheet to the east.

The Chugach Range blocked moisture from the south, keeping the Yukon Valley dry. The climate was also windy and dusty, but actually relatively warm in summer. The winters were however frigid. Some species survived year-round in Beringia and other migrated, as do birds and mammals to Alaska today.

The northern coastal plain, on the Chukchi Sea of the Arctic Ocean, was polar desert, inhabited by musk oxen and caribou (or reindeer). The southern coastal plain and the Yukon Valley were steppe-tundra during the Last Glacial Maximum. It was highly productive thanks to long summer days.

Not only bison and woolly mammoths entered Beringia from Siberia, but eventually people as well, possibly as early as 24,000 years ago. Modern humans were already in the Siberian Arctic 45,000 years ago.


I should add that steppe-tundra is a currently extinct biome which will presumably reassemble during the next glaciation.

Interesting. I had the same question about transiting the ice sheet.

Maybe somebody can explain how the thickness of the permafrost layer, the soils we sample, and the properties of rocks found as deep as 1000 meters can be used to map where the ice sheets were.

Samuel C Cogar

Not only bison and woolly mammoths entered Beringia from Siberia, but eventually people as well, possibly as early as 24,000 years ago.

“YUP”, shur nuff. And 30+ years ago the “experts” were claiming that migration occurred 10,000 to 11,000 years ago, just prior to the final Post-Glacial Meltwater Pulse that re-submerged the “land bridge”.

Then they upped it to 12,000 to 13,000 years ago.

And when more contrary evidence surfaced they again upped it to 13,000 to 14,000 years ago.

But after newer contrary evidence was discovered the “experts” are now claiming a “land bridge crossing possibly as early as 24,000 years ago”.

This recently discovered evidence: http://www.foxnews.com/science/2014/02/13/ancient-baby-dna-suggests-tie-to-native-americans/?intcmp=latestnews


Fernando Leanme
March 14, 2017 at 9:16 am

Lots of ways to know where the ice sheets were, from end moraines, such as Long Island, to gouged out basins, such as Puget Sound and the Great Lakes, to rock striations to glacial erratics to depressed crustal zones, such as Hudson’s Bay, which is under water because the weight of the massive Laurentide and previous ice sheets depressed the crust there down into the mantle.

Gary Pearse

The Dawson Range in central Yukon was not glaciated as were other regions in the north. I worked there in mining exploration. It might have been accessible to animals crossing Beringia onto the “mainland”. When I was there, this patch of ground was reputed to have the largest population of grizzlies on the continent. I sure had some reason to believe it. We mapped the geology up in the mountains themselves where rock was best exposed. If you saw a grizzly down in the valley, you walked along below the ridge on the other side! I was issued an old Lee Enfield 303 from the first world war. I didn’t want to get to cocky with that.


Or perhaps not totally extinct:

comment image


Can’t really be the same today, though, since during glacial phases the mammoth steppe existed at higher latitudes, where in summer the constant or almost constant daylight made it grassier and generally more productive, as evidenced by the great animal and plant biomass.
comment image


That is now. This was then:


Nitrogen (as shown by amino acids) in mammoths’ diet shows that they used a different part of their eponymous steppe than did horses, bison and other grazers, let alone browsers.



Proposal to recreate Pleistocene Park on the former Beringian mammoth steppe:


A lot more feasible than a Jurassic Park (so-called). Mesozoic Park would have been more apt, Triceratops, T. rex and raptors being, for example, Cretaceous creatures.

Samuel C Cogar

David Middleton – March 14, 2017 at 10:01 am

The land bridge was open 24,000 years ago. Beringia was inhabited 24,000 years ago.

So what, …… @ 24K BP was the last Glacial Maximum. Sure, Beringia was surely inhabited ….. but by what? Beringia is now underwater therefore you can only extrapolate what might have inhabited that locale.

What wasn’t open was a path from Beringia into the rest of North America until about 14,000 years ago.

Now David, don’t be blowing smoke at me. Iffen Beringia was “open” (above sea level) then there was surely an “open” path along the western coastline into NA. Therefore, me thinks the “dates” on your above cited map are FUBAR.

And I say that because, to wit:

The Bering Strait is a relatively shallow passage averaging 100 to 165 feet (30 to 50 metres) in depth.

And the fact that the Post-Glacial Sea Level Rise proxies graph prove that Beringia was still above sea level (habitable) at 10,500 years BP, to wit:
comment image

But so what, …… that per se “open path” was confined to the western coast of North America and DID NOT include an “open path” across the top of the Rocky Mountains anywhere between northern Alaska and northern New Mexico, …… to wit:
comment image

No way in ell could your Beringia immigrants have crossed over top of the Rocky Mountains until at least after the Holocene “climate optimum” (circa 10 to 6 ky BP) had melted considerable amounts of snow and ice there on.

And iffen your Beringia immigrants could not have crossed over the mountains into what is now Montana, prior to 10,000 BP, …… then your Beringia immigrants are surely not directly related to the baby boy of the Clovis Culture who was buried in Montana 12,600 years ago.

This is the same article you posted earlier and it still says…

The DNA also indicates the boy’s ancestors came from Asia, …… supporting the standard idea of ancient migration to the Americas by way of a land bridge that disappeared long ago.

So what, Asia is a big place. And it also stated that “He was more closely related to those in Central and South America” ….. which infers a Pacific crossing rather than a Beringia crossing.

And they “obfuscatinglly” discredited their own claim about the land bridge crossing when they stated ….. “The reason for that (DNA) difference isn’t clear”.


Samuel C Cogar
March 15, 2017 at 4:35 am

The DNA data do not support a Pacific crossing from east to west. They support migration southwards along the Pacific coast from Beringia, followed by overland migration down the corridor between the ice sheets and/or over or around the Rockies.

The Cordilleran Ice Sheet had retreated enough by 15 Ka for the Missoula Floods to begin. The central and southern US Rockies were not heavily glaciated: People from the Pacific NW could have walked across South Pass without worrying about ice.



Gary Pearse
March 14, 2017 at 5:40 pm

The Dawson Range wasn’t, but the Richardson Range was glaciated. It was connected with the Cordilleran Ice Sheet, which blocked animals from moving south or east out of Beringia.

During the previous interglacial, called the Eemian in Europe, however, bison and other Asian immigrants had roamed down to the Lower 48 states. And they were free to do so again after the Wisconsin glaciation retreated, leading to our present interglacial, the Holocene.

Samuel C Cogar

David Middleton – March 15, 2017 at 9:47 am
comment image?w=700

David M, I don’t see a Bering Sea “land bridge” on your above map, …… WHY NOT?

Evidence of Clovis culture first appears in the Southwest, about 13,000 years ago.

“NO”, … the first evidence (projectile points) of the Clovis culture that was found in the Southwest was dated at about 13,000 years ago. Which only proves there were Clovis culture members there at that time. That “find” proved absolutely nothing about the origins of the Clovis culture.


Note that the arc of Clovis sites doesn’t go over the Rocky Mountains.

GEEEEZE, except for the denoted California “site” …… I’m utterly surprised that you noticed that,

And iffen the “arc of Clovis sites” doesn’t go over the Rocky Mountains then how did the Clovis people and/or their ancestors get ….. from Beringia to the East coast of NA?

And the really big question for you is, ….. given the above site map, …. did the Clovis culture originate in the desert southwest (Clovis, NM) and then engage in a mass-migration toward the East coast of NA while breeding n’ birthing like a herd of rabbits as they migrated Eastward, ……… or did the Clovis culture originate somewhere on the East coast of NA and as their populations increased they began their own “Manifest Destiny” migrations into the Great Lakes Region, the Ohio and Mississippi River watersheds and then across what is now the southern US ….. and on to Clovis, NM and then California?

they found evidence of post-split gene flow between Siberians and Native Americans which seems to have stopped about 12,000 years ago, which meshes with the time that the Beringia land bridge was flooded by rising seas, cutting off land access between the two land masses.

David M, ….. read my writin AGAIN. Only this time, with improved “reading comprehension” skills, to wit:

And I say that because, to wit:

The Bering Strait is a relatively shallow passage averaging 100 to 165 feet (30 to 50 metres) in depth.

And the fact that the Post-Glacial Sea Level Rise proxies graph proves that Beringia was still above sea level (habitable) at 10,500 years BP, to wit:
comment image .

David M, take a good look-see at the 12K BP vertical grid on the above proxy graph, with your eyes open and your mind un-averted, of course.

It is plain enough for anyone to see that at the 12K BP vertical grid line ……. the sea level rise was still 70 meters below the current sea level …. which means that the lowest point of the Beringia “land bridge” would still have been 20 meters (66 feet) above sea level 12,000 years ago and would still have been “crossable” at 10,500 years ago.

Providing “junk science” claims as proof of “junk science” claims, …… is a “NO-NO” except for the academic lemmings.

Samuel C Cogar

Chimp – March 15, 2017 at 10:04 am

The central and southern US Rockies were not heavily glaciated: People from the Pacific NW could have walked across South Pass without worrying about ice.

Shur nuff, Chimp, I’se believes, …… I’se believes.

Why it is now quite obvious to me that there t’was surely a small group of those Beringia “bridge” immigrants that were hiking down the Northwest Coastal Byway …… that suddenly decided to make a “left turn” near current day Portland, Oregon …. and trek 1,000 miles eastward into the unknown just to see “what was on the other side of the mountains” at South Pass, Montana.

YUP, that’s what I would have done iffen I was one of those Beringia “bridge” trekkers.


Thanks David. I’ve often lost valuable sleep with questions about the giant long-horned morphotype Bison latifrons during the last interglaciation. I rest peacefully now.

Pat Frank

Apparently there were three species of bison, one larger than the modern version, and another still larger than that. The two larger species were driven to extinction, almost certainly by Pre-Columbian hunting.

It’s also likely that the wealth of wildlife reported in early colonial North America reflected recovery of previously hunted faunal populations; the recovery following from the collapse of Native American societies due to exposure to Old World diseases. That would include the large herds of modern bison.


As an homage to the once vast bison herds many climate scientists are dropping bison paddies across our fruited plains.


OT but….first I hate naming snow storms and second…stella is gonna suck here

20 or so inches of snow due here, possibly 24. long days driving plow truck

tom elliott

Ok I am not a scientist or even a collage grad but could some one please explain to me (yes i am being sarcastic) how any animal that evolved on earth be a invasive species on earth? This is the same flawed logic I find when someone tells me I am not a Local to Washington state because 50 years ago I was born in California?? I have lived in 9 states growing up but have lived in Washington the longest. 5 times longer then were I was born. So back to the bison. Why are they a invasive species on the planet they are from?? I ask because I see laws and wildlife management based on this idea. Shooting horses and donkeys in Ca, Not planting fish in other areas because of ” native population” . Is there really a difference between the spread of species by animals or by man?

Ecological isolation. Every island and every continent has its own assortment of species, its unique ecology. Bring a snake to an island where snakes have never been and poof..dozens of bird species go extinct. Or let pigs in where dodos used to nest. Or dogs and people where elephant birds evolved. What takes continental drift millions of years to do people can do in decades. So now we have camels and rabbits in Australia, and tumbleweeds in North American, and thousands of other examples of ecological disruption. In the midst of which global warming is absolutely negligible. –AGF


A species is invasive if the ecosystem it invades isn’t adapted to deal with it, so it disrupts a previously balanced system. Kudzu comes to mind.

Sometimes robust ecosystems are able to incorporate the newcomer, but often not.

Bison were able to integrate into the steppe-tundra biome, in part because they were adapted to similar environments in Eurasia, where mammoth and horses (which evolved in North America, along with rhinos, llamas and camels, then were extirpated here) also lived. What we call elk (wapiti) and moose (elk in Europe) are also Eurasian immigrants. Mule deer evolved in North America.

Before the Pleistocene/Holocene megafaunal extinctions, North America sported four different proboscideans: woolly and steppe mammoths (elephant family), mastodons and the ancient gomphotheres, which invaded North America from South America after the Isthmus of Panama formed. Their ancestors had much earlier passed through North America. Some consider the giant Imperial and Columbian mammoths to be separate species, along with the dwarf Channel Island race, but IMO they’re all subspecies of the steppe mammoth.

Bruce Cobb

The problem is the word “invasive”, which implies that it is automatically bad or harmful. “Non-native” would be a better name. The whole “invasive species” thing seems to have become an obsession.


IMO “invasive” is correctly applied only to species which are indeed invasive, ie disruptive on established ecosystems. I can see some of the worst outside my window right now, appearing for the first time this year.

Invasive starlings, let loose in Central Park by a miscreant who should roast in Hell, have had a horrific effect on indigenous bird species. I wish I could discharge a shotgun in my town and flock shoot them. I could also do without the Asian Indian pigeons, which were introduced first in the Bahamas, cooing loudly around the starlings, although I suppose they would come in handy if we ever undergo a siege.

In my opinion “invasive species” is a bigger ecological problem than climate change.

H. D. Hoese

Native species can be invasive and I still do not have the answer as to how to certainly identify an “exotic” species if you are not so told. True that they can cause havoc but the mentioned kudzu is rare (one place?) west of the Mississippi River in Louisiana and rabbits in Australia look out of place like everything else, but I saw lots more marsupials in the Snowy Mountains. Muskrats cause large “eat-outs” in some Louisiana marshes but this may have been a little out of their native range at times. Ecologists call it something like filling empty niches which are never static and the pie can sometimes be expanded. Incidentally, bison made it in recent historic times to Louisiana where the French called them Boeufs and also rarely to Mexico where they were called Cíbolo.


H. D. Hoese
March 14, 2017 at 5:54 pm

“Invasive” isn’t properly applied to an indigenous species which evolved in its present environment or has been long established, even if for some reason it runs out of control there. Nor are all introduced species necessarily invasive, as with dandelions, for instance.

The US is plagued with lots of invasive species besides kudzu. It’s usually easy for locals to tell if a species is new to the habitat, as with the starlings and pigeons in my AO. An estimated 50,000 non-native species have been introduced to the US, including livestock, crops, pets and other non-invasive species. Economic damages associated with invasive species’ effects and control costs are estimated at $120 billion per year, but that doesn’t include the cost of loss of native species affected by the newcomers.


According to C Mann in “1492” there is no archeological evidence that Native Americans ate buffalo. Accordingly we may surmise that the Plains Indian culture began with the introduction of modern horses and lasted till the railroad, maybe a couple of centuries. Natives on foot just couldn’t catch ’em. This certainly helps to explain why they survived the Pleistocene extinctions when dozens of big game did not. But it remains to be explained why horses disappeared and bison did not. Any hunters out there who have hunted both? –AGF


Early humans in the Americas did indeed hunt bison. They drove them over cliffs. The larger species of bison were wiped out by Archaic Amerindians, after they and their Paleoamerican predecessors drove even bigger megafauna to extinction.

But the advent of the horse and rifle did doom the surviving, smaller bison, whether white hunters had attacked them or not. Just the horse alone threatened bison, as woodland culture Indians moved out from the eastern forests onto the Great Plains, as the Sioux did from Minnesota, to take advantage of this gigantic resource. Arrows and lances were bad enough, but the advent of firearms sealed the fate of the bison herds.

We raised bison when I was growing up.

“The larger species of bison were wiped out by Archaic Amerindians”

Assumptions, not evidence.

AmerIndians hunted pretty much any wildlife around.

Man, in the wild, is also a carrion eater who would take advantage of any large animal kill after the large predators ate their fill.

“did indeed hunt bison. They drove them over cliffs”

Yes, when the right cliffs and animals are conveniently located near each other.
Only the vast majority of cliffs do not show large piles of bone debris at their bases from this tactic getting used frequently.

Side tale:
My Father bought some critters, including pigs and castrated calf.
The calf quickly grew large, but was still amiable enough that just walking alongside was enough to bring it back into the barn.

The pigs also grew rapidly and we fed them a wide range of garden/orchard wastes along with pig feed; (though the pigs loved dog food more).

When market time came for the pigs, we encountered a major difficulty getting a pig into our truck, technically a very large International station wagon.
First each one of us tried alone, then we tried as groups of two and three; all unsuccessful.

One of my Brothers had been up well before dawn to help work a dairy farm and was currently taking a nap before he went back for the afternoon.
My Father told my younger Brothers to go wake him up. Mostly, because that Brother had gained ox-like strength harvesting hay.
Groggy and wiping sleep from his eye, the newly roused Brother grumpily wanted to know what the problem was.

John was bemused, he told us we were doing it wrong.
First getting the pig’s attention with a bit of food he then got the pig to start running after the food in his hand. Grabbing the pig’s ear and head he twisted the pig around so it was not running at the truck. Up the ramp went the pig, into the truck, all of the way up into the driver’s seat.

John closed the tailgate and told us the pig was in and he was going back to bed. We got the pig to the back of the truck with a little more food and my Dad headed off to the butcher.

Steering large wild animals is incredibly more difficult. Nor are all that many animals so dumb that they run over obvious cliffs. Otherwise, via the Darwinian factors, they’d soon eradicate themselves.

There are many amazing discoveries in archaeology.
However, two things cause me to laugh when reading about an archaeology dig.
A) The tendency to decide that many objects invariably have religious significance.
B) The tendency for archaeologists to automatically blame man for any/all extinctions without direct evidence.

And yes, I read a recent paper about a lady proving that ancient man cut tendons from bones.

Big deal. Tendons are/were very valuable to ancient man. Any tendon source, including carrion, is desirable for harvesting tendons.

I’ve also wondered why archaeologists don’t go put their theories into trials? Set up a goal area and pretend it is a cliff?
They can lead a small team in Africa to incite elephants to run into a specific goal?
Or corralling African lions or American panthers?
Perhaps getting a wolf pack to run into a specific goal?
How about getting African rhinos to run into a specific goal?
Or getting a wild herd of camels to do the same?

Remember, in imitation of archaic man, all this must be accomplished by people on foot, in very small teams. Preferably wearing smelly stiff furs.


Getting one animal to run over a cliff is hard. Getting a herd of them to run over a cliff is easy.
The reason for this is only the animals at the front of the herd can see the cliff. The animals in the back can’t see it, but they keep running because there is still something they are trying to get away from this.
As a result, even though the animals at the front try to stop, they can’t because they are being pushed by the ones in the back.

ATheoK —

In a number of cases, there is direct evidence that when man entered a region, most of the megafauna died off within a few hundred years. There are hundreds of these species which are well documente4d The most obvious is Australia where the continent is small enough and the arrival of man was delayed enough that there is distinct pattern. This pattern also repeats itself in Madagascar and New Zealand — the extinctions occurred shortly after humans arrived. That is the one common event.

Now, that doesn’t make humans evil or bad — only successful as a species. A more successful species is wheat which has been able to grow from an isolated weed to one of the predominant plant forms on the planet by exploiting the apex predator of the planet. Does that make wheat evil?

There are other theories as to the cause of these extinctions. We could never know for certain that hunting caused the extinctions. But, the timing is the key factor. It could be a human disease. Or it could be a change to the ecosystem which was precipitated by man. No expert has said that it is an absolute fact that man hunted these animals to extinction, but it is the prevailing theory.

Here is another (more foolish) theory — https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn27952-megafauna-extinction-dna-evidence-pins-blame-on-climate-change/,/url>

“The overwhelming evidence is that the megafauna extinctions occur around the world whenever humans turn up,” says Alan Cooper, an ancient DNA researcher from the University of Adelaide in Australia.

“And that chronology is hard to argue with, he says. “Whether it be 50,000 years ago in Australia or 13,000 years ago in South America or 1000 years ago in New Zealand: it’s a perfect match.

“But the real culprit, he says, is climate change.”


March 14, 2017 at 11:26 am

I have decades of experience herding large animals on foot (as well as by horse and vehicle). Eskimos use piles of stone, which to the herded animals look like men, to help channel a herd where they want it to go. Similar cairns are found on the Great Plains, used by Indians before the advent of horses, and maybe still after.

While the Lewis and Clark expedition didn’t observe such a drive, Lewis described the buffalo jump hunt technique in his journal:

“(O)ne of the most active and fleet young men is selected and disguised in a robe of buffalo skin… he places himself at a distance between a herd of buffalo and a precipice proper for the purpose; the other Indians now surround the herd on the back and flanks and at a signal agreed on all show themselves at the same time moving forward towards the buffalo; the disguised Indian or decoy has taken care to place himself sufficiently near the buffalo to be noticed by them when they take to flight and running before them they follow him in full speed to the precipice; the Indian (decoy) in the mean time has taken care to secure himself in some cranny in the cliff… the part of the decoy I am informed is extremely dangerous.”

But well worth the risk.

The fact is that “buffalo” and horse jumps are found around the Holarctic world.


You can also ambush herds at river fords, as we know that ancient humans did. They even drew pictures of this practice in Paleolithic western Europe. Other sites which offered natural funneling opportunities were exploited, as at the French Rock of Solutre, which give the Solutrean culture its name.


I’m with you A TheoK. I can just see them all gathered around the campfire and their leader says, “We need some meat. Now we could all split up and hunt rabbits, squirrels, beavers, fish and birds. You might get bit but that only hurts for a moment. And instead of using our carefully crafted clovis points and risking their loss or breakage we’d be able to use just ordinary old, laying-around-everywhere rocks and maybe clubs and sticks. On the other hand we could all go out in a group; see if we can find and corner something weighing a ton or two and keep running up to it and poking it with sharp stones tied to a stick until it dies. And when some of us get back we’ll share with the widows and children of our comrades who were stomped to death on the expedition. Do I hear a motion from the floor?”

Before I’m ready to credit small bands of Stone Age hunters with causing mass extinction I would love to find out how efficient their hunting methods were in dealing with very large and therefore very tough and dangerous game. In addition, as these animals neared extinction what sort of energy would have to be expended by people traveling on foot to seek them as their numbers dwindled?

When it comes to cut marks on bones they don’t say anything definitive about how it was made to lie still while the hacking was under way. Butchering can result from slaughter or serendipitous discover or carrion.


March 14, 2017 at 1:08 pm

As I replied to ATheoK, there are all kinds of evidence for humans causing the extinction of ancient bison and other American megafauna, just as on other continents and islands. It’s not just an assumption, but a well-supported hypothesis for most species and an observed fact for others.

The movements of herd animals are predictable and can be exploited. Or they can be followed. There aren’t just a few buffalo jumps, but lots of them, found where that cliffs and bison migration paths coincide. That Paleo and Archaic Indians killed and ate bison and even larger mammals is not in doubt. Clovis points have been found inside mammoth remains at vital positions.


Another factor to consider is that large animals have longer reproductive cycles, and females and young are preferentially hunted. That’s how American bison were nearly wiped out in the 19th century.

The temporal pattern of extinction is also instructive. The biggest megafauna were killed off first, ie mammoths, then bison only later, and only the largest species of their genus. Horses, camels, ground sloths, etc were wiped out after the woolly and Columbian mammoths as well. to be followed by the predators which specialized on megaherbivores and their young.

Just an old guy — they did exactly that. Just change your response from mammoths to whales. It would go something like this —

I can just see them all gathered at the ports and their leader says, “We need some oil. Now we could dig it up from the ground or find some oily plants to milk or maybe some nuts. It will be a little bit of work, but no big deal. And instead of using our expensive ships and risking their loss or breakage we’d be able to use just ordinary old, laying-around-everywhere shovels and maybe garden hoes. On the other hand we could all go out in a group; travel half-way across the world in miserable conditions, risking scurvy on a sailing ship, see if we can find and corner some big whale weighing a hundreds or less and keep running up to it and poking it with sharp spears until it dies. After we boil their blubber for days on board wooden ships. And when some of us get back we’ll make the captain a lot richer and maybe he’ll share a little of that money with us. Do I hear a motion from the floor? Let’s hunt those whales to near extinction!”

But that is exactly what they did. You can phrase it in any silly way that you want — but what we nearly did to the whales in the modern era is the exact same thing that was done to megafauna on land.

One large animal had tremendous amount of meat and animal fat. The animal skins were warm and could be used for dozens of people. It was worth taking the time to figure out the best way to hunt and kill it using the tribal resources. Some people have theorized that the entire reason homo sapiens crossed the Bering Strait land bridge was due to following these large megafauna as they depleted the supplies in Asia.

They kill a rabbit and one or two people eat for a day. One mammoth could support a tribe for weeks.

First, there are a couple of tidbits — it was not exactly “mass extinction”. It was hundreds of species over tens of thousands of years. These happen to be the megafauna (everything from mammoths to giant sloths.) These species were prepared for competitive species that existed in the area, but man was a whole unique species in its aggression and tactical skill. The megafauna have long gestation periods which meant that they could not recover from this “invasive species” quickly enough. The more success a tribe had, the more children they had and they bigger area the covered. Humans also clear cut lands. This changed the way the megafauna could hide from predators.

As there numbers dwindled, the hunters moved on to smaller prey, but the species were decimated. Some of these animals were pretty bizarre like the diprotodon There is evidence of isolated pockets of mammoths up to 4,000-5,000 years ago.


“Before I’m ready to credit small bands of Stone Age hunters with causing mass extinction I would love to find out how efficient their hunting methods were in dealing with very large and therefore very tough and dangerous game.”

Would a 120 000 years old wooden spear found in place in a dead elephant be good enough? If so google “Lehringen spear”



The Schöningen spears are between 380,000 and 400,000 years old.


March 14, 2017 at 7:29 pm

Good analogy.

Some whale species were hunted to extinction in historic times, like the Atlantic gray whale in the 18th century. Others, such as the blue, humpback and Atlantic right whales, were rescued at the last minute by international pressure.


Same with the American bison, which was almost hunted to extinction, but saved at the last minute, in part by Molly, wife of former “buffalo” hunter Charles Goodnight, of the eponymous Trail. There were four other saviors:


American bison were cut into Northern and Southern herds before their final near-extermination in the 1870s, thanks to the railroads. The Goodnights helped to revive the Southern herd.

“There are other theories as to the cause of these extinctions. We could never know for certain that hunting caused the extinctions. But, the timing is the key factor. It could be a human disease.”

There is that assumption that rough correlation equals causation.

None of the “overwhelming evidence” is direct evidence; nor is that evidence hard dated to the exact dates of megafauna extinctions.

Nor is it explained in any of the mysterious correlation studies why megafauna are eliminated, but other large fauna are not exterminated.

“Chimp March 14, 2017 at 12:33 pm
March 14, 2017 at 11:26 am

I have decades of experience herding large animals on foot (as well as by horse and vehicle). Eskimos use piles of stone, which to the herded animals look like men, to help channel a herd where they want it to go. Similar cairns are found on the Great Plains, used by Indians before the advent of horses, and maybe still after.”

“Piles of rocks resemble man to herded animals” – sheer assumption. Not fact.
“Decades of experience herding large animals” – And that proves? You can herd animals. How many cliffs did you drive them over?
“Similar cairns are found on the Great Plains” – Indeed? And!?

And the sum total of all these assumptions is that man exterminated the megafauna using cairns and cliffs in a relatively few places?

“Ulm Pishkun Buffalo Jump is likely the largest buffalo jump in the world. It was used by the Native Americans in the area between 900 and 1500 AD. The cliffs themselves stretch for more than a mile and the site below has compacted bison bones nearly 13 feet (4.0 m) deep.”

As I mentioned earlier. The bones along the bottom of the cliff are a giveaway to when cliffs were used regularly.
In spite of extrapolations without evidence, there are not cairns and cliffs located everywhere. They’re nto even enough locations to seriously impair migrations.

Which cliff has the bones of the verified last megafauna?

“David Middleton March 14, 2017 at 1:21 pm
“From ≈11,200 to 8,000 years ago, the Great Plains of North America were populated by small Paleoindian hunting groups with well developed weaponry and the expertise to successfully hunt large mammals, especially mammoths and bison. Mammoths became extinct on the Plains by 11,000 years ago, and, although paleoecological conditions were worsening, their demise may have been hastened by human predation”

Bolding is mine for emphasis.

“The Northern Plains Paleoindian hunting groups developed highly efficient weaponry systems using the best of available raw materials, some from local sources (a few hours’ or a day’s trip) to others at distances up to several hundred kilometers. Clovis is the only Paleoindian complex unequivocally associated with mammoth (40), and this complex designed a projectile point (Fig. 3a) that would both withstand the shock of penetrating the thick mammoth hide and produce lethal wounds.”

In retrospect, we then assume the Zulu spear point is explicitly designed to kill elephants?

When large dangerous animals, especially predators, are around, clovis points are remarkably well designed for defense purposes against large very dangerous animals.
One would not try to use a small bird point when stopping a tiger, lion or short faced bear.

Ishi walked out of the wilderness near Mount Lassen. During his last few years of life, Ishi demonstrated and taught many lost Native American techniques, including how to knapp a clovis point. Until Ishi demonstrated knapping the shallow groove, that piece of ancient technology was thought lost ages ago.

Clovis type points were made right up to the twentieth century.
I am amused when I see the “Clovis arc”. Native Americans were discommoded by the mountain ranges, but they were aware of and did utilize every pass.

What I notice when I see the “Clovis arc” image is how close it represents volcanic ash fall maps from the Northwest volcanoes.

Sediments, ash falls, local civilization bloat; all contribute to or detract from easy point collection.

Yes, a few, very few Native American sites have been carefully stratified and dug carefully to depth. Most have not.

Native Americans were also recorded donning furs of deer and buffalo so they could sneak into herds to shoot an animal. Somehow, I have difficulty envisioning a paleoindian wearing an elephant hide.

Those alleged attempts by pointy headed lab coats pretending to seriously attempt using old type weapons are quite amusing. There was one documentary where they built a mechanical saber tooth tiger and then had the mechanical head bite various non life threatening parts of a carcass.
Those lame attempts rank right up there with Al Gore’s and Billy Nye’s fake CO2 experiment.

Can a clovis point on a spear kill an elephant? Yes.
Can one man easily drive a clovis pointed spear right into the heart of an elephant? That I doubt very much.

That thought doesn’t improve much when considering many of the megafauna; e.g. wooly rhino.

Yes, there is an amazing amount of knowledge regarding glaciation, possible migration routes and archaeology. That knowledge does not make up for the glaring inconsistencies and massive gaps between a little evidence and gross assumptions.

There are no “Native Americans”. The first ones here crossed the same Bering Land Bridge after they wiped out the megafauna in Asia.

The historical record shows that each time humans entered a new continent, the majority of the megafauna were wiped out within hundreds of years. This did not happen in Africa because the megafauna and humans evolved at the same time. In other words, the African megafauna retained respect for the Apex predator. In other continents, the megafauna were nearly wiped out before they could develop instincts to avoid humans or fight back.

So, yes, the first Americans did hunt every species of megafauna. They chased mammoths all the way down to the tip of South America. Bisons survived because they had better instincts that the much more appetizing mammoths and rodents of unusual size.

Plains Indian horse riding culture evolved after the introduction of European domesticated horses.


Correct me if wrong, but IMO mammoths didn’t make it to South America. Central America, yes. Columbian mammoth remains have been found in Costa Rica.

IMO you’re thinking of the mastodons hunted in southern Chile. Mastodons belong to a different family than mammoths and elephants. They were primarily woodland creatures, whereas the elephant family are mainly adapted to grassland or mixed woods and prairie, although the Asian elephant can survive in fairly dense forest.

Chimp — Forgive my oversimplification. I’m no expert, but I don’t think either the Mastodon nor the Mammoth has been found in South America. There were several species of those classes in South America — one of which is a type of mastodon (stegomastodon?) and another a type of elephant and there were many other megafauna depleted at the end of the pleistocene.


There were mastodons in South America, along with gomphotheres, but not mammoths, which are members of the elephant family of the Order Proboscidea. Mastodons and gomphotheres belong to other families. Stegomastodon was a gomphothere, not a mastodon, so the nomenclature is confusing. It only gets worse, since mastodons are in the Family Mammutidae, which looks as if it should contain mammoths, but doesn’t.

I was definitely ignorant enough to believe that the Columbian Mammoth was not in South America. I guess my clue should have been that it is not spelled “Colombian Mammoth”. Maybe they should call it the pre-Columbian Mammoth to be clear.

john harmsworth

@lorcanbonda. I guess your theory is probably the prevailing one as to why African megafauna was not wiped out. I don’t buy it! I refuse to believe that it was possible for humans to wipe out these species in N.A. while humans were somehow outsmarted by big game in Africa. I don’t care how wary these animals were in Africa, humans would have figured out how to fool them. The answer to that puzzle must lie in animal population densities in Africa vs. N.A.. or some other peculiarity that has gone unnoticed.



To the wariness of African megafauna must be added the fact that tropical environments don’t change as drastically as do temperate and polar climates. The one0two combo punch of advanced hunters and the normal fragmentation and reduction of higher latitude habitats during glacial termination knocked off the megafauna of other continents.

Much of Australia lies at lower latitudes less subject to climatic variation, but it is more akin to oceanic islands than to Eurasia and the Americas. No one doubts that humans caused the rapid extinctions on New Zealand and other isolated islands.

“There are no “Native Americans”. The first ones here crossed the same Bering Land Bridge after they wiped out the megafauna in Asia”

So I guess that means there are no native people anywhere outside Africa?

John — it’s not that the African megafauna outsmarted humans, it was that their preservation instincts were better. Once man appeared in new continents, the megafauna had no instincts to defend against this invasive predator. By the time they could develop those instincts, they were already on the decline. In Africa, the animals had sufficient instincts to be wary of humans. Instincts to herd or run were better developed so that those species could survive even as individual members were killed.

Gareth, my only point about the “Native Americans” was to point out agfosterjr’s error in his CMann quote. The error is that the Americans discovered by European explorers are the same as those who arrived across the Bering Strait as though nothing changed here during those millenia. By the time the Europeans had arrived, Native Americans and the American animals were in balance (only to be disrupted again by the arrival of guns and horses.)

Juan Slayton

Don’t know much about bison history, but Sierra Vista, AZ, has a Clovis site where mammoths were stampeded over a cliff into an arroyo where they were sitting ducks. The site is at a trailhead that extends for miles along the San Pedro River, so I visit it from time to time. (It has been well documented with explanatory signage for visitors. Access is easy, but not widely publicized, I suspect to keep vandalism down. Make local inquiry.)

At any rate I am sure pre-Columbian tribes were well versed in taking down big game without chasing them on horses. But hunting them so extinction? I find that a bit hard to believe.


It didn’t take much to wipe out megafauna during the deglacial millennia. Habitat was already being restricted for some species and broken up into isolated pockets. The megafauna had survived similar warm interglacials previously, but the addition of modern human hunters doomed them.

I shouldn’t have used the term ‘bison’ so loosely when I meant buffalo, but as for humans hunting numerous species of big game to extinction, the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming. Wherever people went, to Australia, Madagascar, North America, and all the islands at sea, the big game disappeared, with plenty of evidence that humans were eating it. Where humans couldn’t go, like Wrangle Island, mammoths survived much longer. Some of the extinctions occurred in historical times and are well documented, like the dodo, passenger pigeon, and the great auk. Granted, these are not big game, but they are representative of the process. Dodos were sitting ducks, waiting with their eggs for doom. Passenger pigeons numbered in the billions but farmers managed to eliminate them. The lesser auk survived, the big auk made for more efficient feeding. Killing mammoths was easy compared to killing whales.

There can be little doubt humans hunted mammoths to extinction and not buffaloes, but it may be that buffaloes were the most aggressive of any of the big game. –AGF

Gary Pearse

Near the end of the Yukon gold rush, a number of bison were brought to Cormacks, Yukon and turned loose with the idea that they would multiply and serve as hardy beef for more permanent settlements. After a few years, they disappeared and we’re thought to have perished.

In 1969, I was in charge of a small mining exploration team camp on an island in Snag River (to minimize grizzly visits which were terrorizing our competitors’ camps). The Snag lies on the east side of the Kluane Range in the lee of prevailing westerlies and although the coldest temperature recorded in Canada is in the Snag R. region. There is almost no snow in winter.

One morning, a helicopter from another camp landed on our island and a Dutch geologist jumped out in a state of excitement which I thought likely because of a bear problem. He explained that he ran into a herd of musk oxen not far from our camp. I jumped in the chopper to see this unlikely sight and it turned out to be a herd of bison. I informed the wild life folks and they were convinced the mystery of the lost Cormacks buffalo had been solved since this herd was unknown to them.

Careful how you collect and interpret your bison samples!

Gary Pearse

Dangit. ‘Carmacks’. I believe a more literate and knowledgeable language master is required on the android team. If you have a decent vocabulary and level of general knowledge you are driven nuts by cell phone ‘helpers’.

Kermit Johnson

I can’t add anything, but I just wanted to say thanks to all the contributors for all the interesting comments. This is why I, and I’m sure a lot of people, keep coming back here.


My thanks to David and Anth@ny for publishing a science post only peripherally related to climate. I’m glad that it has aroused so much interest among blog readers.


If geologic chronology made sense, there would be no need for the Quaternary. It would all be the Pleistocene, since the Holocene is just another run of the mill interglacial. And the Quaternary Period should probably be in the Neogene Period.

The geologic powers that be did a good thing in moving the last age of the Pliocene into the Pleistocene, which doesn’t leave much for the Pliocene, especially compared to the long Miocene.

IMO the Oligocene Epoch should also be moved to the Neogene Period from the Paleogene, since the Antarctic ice sheets formed then. That would leave a pretty short Paleogene, with just two epochs, but so be it. Those epochs were warm, while earth has been cooling by fits and starts since the Oligocene.

It also makes no sense that the long Cretaceous Period has only two epochs, while the shorter Triassic and Jurassic have three. And the short Silurian Period exists mainly because of the historic feud between its founder Murchison and his former friend and colleague, the Cambrian “system” advocate, Darwin’s geology mentor Rev. Sedgwick. At least there was a mass extinction event at the Ordovician-Silurian boundary.

Not to mention that the six-period Paleozoic Era (541-252 Ma) is a lot longer than the three-period Mesozoic (252-66 Ma).

I could be wrong ,but were,t bison hunted to extinction as a way to eliminate native americans?

Tom S.

From the picture, I thought you were going to discus Wolly Mammoth and Mastodons. I can’t wait until they clone some up. I’ve developed a taste for their meat in “Skyrim”.

James in Perth


There is a lot of information at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre website. The part on the steppe-bison is here:


One of the authors of the story is Duane Froese who co-authored “Ice Age Old Crow”. Old Crow is a village in northern Yukon.


Gary Pearse

When I was in Yukon Territory in 1969-70, the Yukon newspaper Whitehorse Star (?) had a column written by a colorful aboriginal women Edith Josee entitled “Here are the News”. I see she has been active more recently.


The Whitehorse Star motto under the masthead read: “Illigitimus non carborundum” Dont let the bastards grind you down! The editor at the time (I’ve forgotten his name), as legend has it, got drunk at a party and decided to see if he could phone Ho Chi Min. He managed to get put through to Hanoi and got connected through a San Francisco operator somehow. When the phone was answered he simply said: “Hi Ho” and then laughed like a goosed hyena.

Does Mr Trump know about these immigrants ? Maybe he should ban them until he can figure out what exactly is going on .


Too late, they’ve already had their anchor babies.

I’ve seen bison living in the Bonx.. at the zoo. More than you would expect.

Ed Zuiderwijk

During glaciations sealevel drops by 100 to 200 meters. The average depth of the oceans is 2.8km. Thus between 4% and 7% of all water on the planet is locked in land ice. In the grand scheme of things this is not “much”.


Yet land ice makes a big difference in sea level. So does ocean temperature.

During the last glacial maximum, sea level was about 400 feet lower than today. Glaciers and ice sheets then covered almost a third of the land, of which there was more area, thanks to lower MSL, versus only a little less than 10% today (of a smaller area).

During the last interglacial, the Eemian, some 125,000 years ago, MSL was about 18 feet higher than now (without benefit of a Neanderthal industrial age). During the Pliocene, c. three million years ago, it might have been up to 165 feet higher. During previous even warmer epochs and periods, it was higher still, as during the Cretaceous, when the Arctic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico were connected by a seaway across the middle of North America.


Sauropod flatulence?

M Courtney

They’re ruminants so they can obviously swim but does anyone know what the range for a swimming bison is?
Island hopping isn’t as silly as it sounds.


They can cross fairly sizeable rivers if the current isn’t too swift.

Except that there was no need for bison to swim from Siberia to Alaska during glacial phases.

M Courtney

But it widens the time window if they could travel between green islands rather than walking along a grassless isthmus.



The isthmus wasn’t grassless and it wasn’t an isthmus. It was a vast subcontinent the size of the Indian plate, a thousand miles by more than that.

Its southern and northern plains are submerged, and its center. The north was polar desert, but the south, like the Yukon Valley, was lush steppe-tundra, verdant in summer.


Some Berignian imagery:
comment image
comment image



The Bering Strait is shallow, like the English Channel, although there is a sunken lake at its deepest part, which isn’t very profound.

The Diomede Islands, which stick up out of it, would have made great lookout points for spotting the herds of mammoth, horse, bison, antelope, etc, which migrated across the steppe-tundra landscape.

Of course, today people and animals can and do still walk to Siberia from Alaska across the winter sea ice.

Yupik Eskimos live on both sides of the Strait.

M Courtney

Chimp, Interesting.
Thank you.



You’re most welcome.

Asian immigrants like mastodons, mammoths, bison, elk and moose didn’t need to swim to make the trip to North America. Ditto for rhinos, horses and camels headed in the opposite direction. For most of the past three million years, the continents have been connected by dry (maybe boggy) land. Bison might well have crossed some pretty big rivers, however.


Just to point out, that for American Bison, the word American Buffalo or Buffalo is acceptable, and was used first. So, there can’t be any correction using Bison or Buffalo, both are accepted.

Per Wikipedia:

The term “buffalo” is sometimes considered to be a misnomer for this animal, and could be confused with “true” buffalos, the Asian water buffalo and the African buffalo. However, “bison” is a Greek word meaning ox-like animal, while “buffalo” originated with the French fur trappers who called these massive beasts bœufs, meaning ox or bullock—so both names, “bison” and “buffalo”, have a similar meaning. The name “buffalo” is listed in many dictionaries as an acceptable name for American buffalo or bison. In reference to this animal, the term “buffalo” dates to 1625 in North American usage when the term was first recorded for the American mammal.[11] It thus has a much longer history than the term “bison”, which was first recorded in 1774.[citation needed] The American bison is very closely related to the wisent or European bison.


English “buffalo” entered our language from Spanish, Portuguese or French, from a Latin original. The scientific generic name Bubalus however is from Greek.

“Bison” is also from a different Latin original, cognate with the Germanic original of “wisent”, the European bison. The modern American bison is Bison bison in Linnaean binomial nomenclature.

Barbara Skolaut

“Why did the buffalo cross the land bridge?”

To prove to the possum it could be done.

I’ll be here all week – don’t forget to tip your waitress. 😀

Gary Pearse

question: did any of these animals ever walk back?



All the time. To them, NE Siberia and NW America were same, same.

I believe horses evolved in North America, but became extinct until European colonisation.


That’s right. Camels, llamas and rhinos also evolved here but survived on other continents to which they had migrated.



To get to the good grass that mammoths and horses weren’t using.

Just as on the Serengeti Plain today, there was a grazing and browsing succession on the steppe-tundra. Ruminants like bison and saiga antelope could use forage not fully utilized by horses and mammoths. There were also the Ice Age equivalent of gazelles.

Thomas Graney

While it may be more taxonomically correct to call buffalo bison,you taxonomic purests can go on and call them bison; to the rest of us, they are buffalo.


No “may” about it.

Bison and buffalo belong to different genera in the bovine subfamily. Bison can hybridize with cattle and yaks, so are closer to the genus Bos than is genus Bubalus. Water buffalo.and domestic cattle cannot hybridize. In laboratory experiments, the embryos fail around the eight-cell stage. The African buffalo has been placed in its own genus, Syncerus, reflecting its grown-together horns.

If in common parlance, you want to call bison buffalo, of course you’re free to be incorrect. I didn’t object when people called our bison buffalo. Neither did the bison.

Steve in SC

So if I get the theory right, the Bison (aka Buffalo) came across the land bridge. If that is true, how come there were no tigers (the guys with stripes) in North America.?????


It’s not a theory. It’s an observation.

Tigers are woodland creatures, adapted to hunting in forests, whether boreal or tropical (and formerly temperate, but the Caspian tiger was driven to extinction by the Roman thirst for bloody games). Their habitat doesn’t exist in Beringia during glacial intervals, although it does in interglacials, but not continuously on land and of course there’s the Bering Strait.

Some speculated that the cave lion might have been more closely related to tigers than modern lions, but genetics, anatomy and even art work have shown this conjecture to be false.


Not to mention frozen feline remains.


Why aren’t there any bison in Siberia?


Canadian bison have been introduced to Siberia, but no living descendants exist there of the primordial bison which lived in the region thousands of years ago. They went extinct with the Siberian mammoths and other megaherbivores.

Lots of frozen remains have been found, however:


And their kin the wisent still live in Eastern Europe, where they barely managed to survive.


Wisent are apparently hybrids of steppe bison and aurochs, the extinct ancient wild ox, ancestral to European domestic cattle breeds.


There are no indigenous bison left in Alaska, either. The Pleistocene species died out. The environment of Alaska is also no longer suitable for bison. During the Holocene, it’s either too woody or tundra-like. The grassy steppe-tundra which they favored is extinct in Alaska and most of the world, yet was the world’s largest biome during the last glaciation.

So, maybe the American Indian as we know them are not the original immigrants to this continent. Can we figure out what group were the first? Do we have any information on the Clovis people and who might have killed them off?


It’s hard to get the needed DNA data because American Indian groups resist testing.

Finding out what groups were first is also difficult since if there were any people south of the ice sheets before they started melting, they were few and far between. Discovering their remains is a matter of luck and guess work.

However evidence for people more than 30,000 years ago has been claimed for some sites in both Americas. Archaeological material can’t always elucidate ethnicity however.

Some archaeologists suppose that people might have been in North America south of Alaska as long ago as 45,000 years. IMO this is improbable but can’t be ruled out. Evidence is emerging for the occupation of Beringia by at least 25,000 years ago, however.

A well-preserved mammoth killed and butchered, presumably by modern humans, not Neanderthals or Denisovans, excavated in 2012 at 72 degrees North on Siberia’s Yenisei Gulf has now been reliably dated to 45,000 years ago. Its excavators assumed it to be only around 30,000 years old.


If people were on the Taymyr Peninsula 45,000 years ago, then there is no reason why they couldn’t have survived in Beringia, unless the short-faced bear kept them out. There might have been too few of them and too much space however for them to have gotten that far.
comment image


I mean too few people, not bears. The short-faced bear was limited to the Americas, while woolly rhinos and cave hyenas were restricted to western Beringia and beyond, ie Eurasia.