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Late Quaternary Megafaunal Extinctions in Southern Africa's Cape Floral Region Open Access

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The late Quaternary is characterized by massive extinctions of large mammals throughout the continents. Since recognition of the extinctions by 19th century scholars, understanding its causes has remained a challenge spanning the fields of archaeology, paleontology, paleoecology and climatology. Resolving the causes of these extinctions, be they human impacts, environmental change, or some combination of both, is central to understanding the forces that have shaped the faunal communities and ecosystems observed today. From a practical perspective, understanding the late Quaternary extinctions influences our approach to present-day conservation issues, particularly in relation to the maintenance of biodiversity in the face of environmental and anthropogenic challenges. Previous work in southern Africa's Cape Floral Region (CFR) generated a detailed paleoenvironmental and archaeological record documenting the extinction of numerous specialized grazing ungulates since the end of the Last Glacial Maximum, many of which took place near the Pleistocene-Holocene transition. The paleoecological and archaeological records of the CFR provide reason to suspect that both environmental change and human subsistence activities could have played an important role in driving these extinctions. This thesis comprises five individual zooarchaeological case studies (Chapters 2-6) aimed at understanding the extent to which the CFR extinctions can be attributed to environmental and/or anthropogenic mechanisms. This is accomplished through the study of fossil remains from archaeological and paleontological sites spanning the middle and late Quaternary. Together, these studies represent the most comprehensive study of African late Quaternary extinctions to date. The analyses presented in this dissertation provide abundant support for the argument that environmental change played a decisive role in mediating the CFR large mammal extinctions. In contrast, there is little evidence that the CFR extinctions are associated with human impacts on animal populations. In the absence of such evidence, it follows that environmental change played the central role in the extinctions. The environmentally-driven CFR extinctions parallel the emerging picture of megafaunal extinctions throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

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