Ancient hunters not to blame for driving mammoths to extinction

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Woolly mammoths and other large, lumbering beasts faced extinction long before early humans perfected their skills as spearmakers, scientists say.

The prehistoric giants began their precipitous decline nearly 2,000 years before our ancestors turned stone fragments into sophisticated spearpoints at the end of the last ice age.

The animals, which included mammoths, elephant-sized mastodons and beavers the size of black bears, were probably picked off by more inept hunters who only much later developed specialised weapons when their prize catches became scarce.

"Some people thought humans arrived and decimated the populations of these animals in a few hundred years, but what we've found is not consistent with that rapid 'blitzkrieg' overkill of large animals," said Jacquelyn Gill, a PhD student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who led the research team.

Archaeological evidence shows that humans developed advanced spearheads around 13,000 years ago. The Clovis people of North America crafted speartips with deep grooves that made wounds bleed freely. With these, hunters did not have to kill their prey on the spot, but could wait for the beasts to bleed to death.

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