4 Extinct Prehistoric North American Species Encountered by the Continent’s Ancient Human Settlers

1. American cheetah:  North America used to have cheetahs, or more accurately, cheetah-like big cats with puma faces. Like the other species on this list, it survived in North America down to the time of human migration to the continent.

800px-Glyptodon_(Riha2000)

Glyptodon.

2. Speaking of which, it blows my mind to think of Paleoindian populations living alongside the mighty Glyptodon, but that’s apparently exactly what they did, at least for a while.  These armored tanks, relatives of armadillos, anteaters, and sloths, stood close to 5 feet high and 11 feet long.  They are thought to have been eradicated by humanity’s penchant for over-hunting. According to the never-wrong editors of Wikipedia, ancient peoples used Glyptodon shells for shelter.

3. In the 1840s, the U.S. Army thought camels would make good pack animals because deserts.  It didn’t work out because horses are apparently afraid of camels.  That’s not to say the idea was totally without historic or scientific basis.  The Camelops survived in North America until 10000 years ago.

4. Mastodon is often wrongly thought of as a synonym for mammoth, but it turns out the North American mastodon, though closely resembling both mammoths and elephants, is closely related to neither.

Can you imagine a world in which mastodons and glyptodons roamed the American plains down to recent history?  It’s a shame that didn’t happen.  So too the extinction of many other species since 1500.  Just the thought of human beings interacting with these creatures in the first place is outstanding.  I wish they would have left some.

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2 comments

  1. Matthew Wright · January 14, 2015

    This happened in my country New Zealand too. This was the last habitable land mass reached by humanity and so retained its archaic flora and fauna until that point, just 800 years ago. In this last ‘Pliestocene’ style collision the biggest casualties were the moa, huge flightless ratites. For a long time there was debate over how they became extinct, but the answer has become increasingly clear of late, as the ‘industrial’ scale oven complexes and 800 year old boneyards archaeologists have found make clear.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Christopher Cocca · January 14, 2015

      Thanks for these insights. I’m thinking of doing a post like this for each continent or for a variety of countries. It’s just amazing, and sad, that such creatures survived for millions of years only to be wiped out shortly (geologically speaking) after human contact. We’ve lost such a rich diversity of animal (and plant) life. Thanks for the comment!

      Like

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