+2% Concentration of Dung Fungus Spores=Significant Megafauna Populations

I’ve become a subscriber to the Mammoth Trumpet magazine because I think it will provide plenty of fascinating fodder for this blog.  All four articles in the first issue I received covered controversial topics fiercely debated among scientists.  It seems as if nothing in ancient archaeology is clear cut.  I suppose this is understandable, considering the information we have often consists of minute and even microscopic details.  Today, I’ll give my opinion (for what it’s worth) on two of these controversies–the ones I’m most familiar with.

Dung Fungus Spores aka Sporormiella

I covered the megafauna extinction controversy extensively in my book, devoting a whole chapter to it, and I’m not going to rehash it all here. (Don’t forget, Georgia Before People is available as a download for only $3.)  Suffice to say, I’m convinced man overhunted the megafauna into extinction, but it was a protracted overkill that took place over a 1500-2000 year time period, not the sudden blitzkrieg Paul Martin first proposed.  I believe a study of dung fungus spore concentrations undertaken by some scientists from Fordham University conclusively supports a protracted overkill model of extinction, though I admit this evidence is still circumstantial.  For those unfamiliar with these studies, a brief summary is necessary.

Dung fungus occurs in the intestinal contents of all herbivores, but especially in those of the large plant-eating mammals, such as mammoths and mastodons.  Scientists study sediment from cores they take of lake bottoms.  From these cores they find and count pollen grains, including spores from dung fungus. (Though technically, spores are not pollen, they are a reproducing element of fungus.)

See also http://tolweb.org/sporormiceae/60141 for really nice pictures of sporormiella taken by Asa Kruys.

From cores taken at various sites in New York scientists counted the number of dung fungus spores and used them as a proxy to estimate past populations of megafauna there.  Scientists discovered that megafauna populations declined well before the Younger Dryas cold snap that proponents of climate change models of extinction touted as the cause of megafauna demise.  Moreover, the declines occurred at different times at different sites, suggesting an irregular pattern–hunters wiped out the game in one area, then moved to another area.  Another study in Madagascar (where megafauna extinctions occurred between 2000 BC and 500 BC), also show a haphazard gradual decline in megafauna populations, also taking place over about a 1500 year period.  These studies support an earlier study, a computer simulation, that estimated even low levels of human hunting could have caused the extinction of most large, slow-reproducing mammals within a 1,640 year time period.

The article in the Mammoth Trumpet, “Decoding the Mammoth part III,” discusses a new study, this time of Appleman Lake in Indiana, that further supports the results of earlier studies along this line.  Here, megafauna populations declined between 14,800 BP-13,700 BP,  long before the Younger Dryas.  Instead, the decline occurred during the Boling-Alerod, a period of warming climate.  However, the composition of plant species remained the same during this population decline, and the megafauna did survive previous warm interstadials, so climate is not likely a factor in their extinctions.  Instead, man is probably the culprit because we know he was present on the continent–human coprolites dating to 14,250 BP were found in Paisley Cave, Oregon.  The megafaunal population decline also predates Clovis culture (13,400 BP-12,900 BP).  Pre-Clovis people were driving the large mammals to extinction; Clovis and post Clovis people, after developing improved tool kits, probably finished off the small relic populations of megafauna that lasted until about 12,500 BP.  Perhaps improved hunting weapons and techniques were needed to hunt down the, by then, wary animals that had belatedly learned to avoid man.

Comet Impact

The above-mentioned studies eliminate extraterrestrial impact models of Pleistocene extinction.  Frankly, I’ve always thought Dr. Firestone’s comet impact hypothesis was preposterous.  He thinks a comet slammed into the Laurentide glacier; causing the Younger Dryas cold snap, Pleistocene extinctions, massive fires, and it created Carolina Bays, those mysterious oval depressions along the south Atlantic coastal plain.  All of these events can be explained by simpler more logical causes: a natural cyclical climate fluctuation brought on the Younger Dryas, man overhunted the megafauna, anthropogenic fires ignited the excess deadwood resulting from reduced megafauna foraging, and wind and water action created the Carolina Bays.

The article in the Mammoth Trumpet, “The Clovis Comet Revisited,” reports that two scientists were unable to replicate Dr. Firestone’s findings.  Todd Surovell could not find any unusual quantities of microspherules at the strata (and at many of the same sites) that Dr. Firestone’s team did.  Microspherules are one of the evidences of an extraterrestrial impact. Dr. Firestone’s team is preparing a rebuttal to Surovell’s paper.  They’re claiming Dr. Surovell didn’t follow certain protocols–that he didn’t have the correct size samples or sample intervals.  At the very least, this proves Dr. Firestone et. al. wrote a bad paper, if they left out specific sample sizes and intervals crucial for scientist trying to replicate their work.  In my opinion scientists favoring the comet impact hypothesis of megafauna extinction are full of Sporormiella.


I’m still waiting for the mailman to deliver Fossiling in Florida by Mark Renz.  A review of that book will probably be the subject of my next blog entry.


Mammoth Trumpet 25 (2) April 2010

Alroy, John

“A multi-species Overkill Simulation of the End Pleistocene Megafaunal Extinction”

Science 292 (5523) pp. 1893-1896 2001


Burney, David et. al.

“Sporormiella and the late Holocene extinctions on Madagascar”

PNAS 100 (19) September 2003 pp. 10800-10805

Firestone, R.B. et. al.

“Evidence for an extraterrestrial impact 12,900 years ago that contributed to the megafaunal extinctions and the Younger Dryas cooling”

PNAS 104 (4) Oct. 2007

Robinson, Guy et. al.

“Landscape Paleoecology and Megafauna Extinction in Southwestern New York State”

Geological Monographs 75 (3) Jan. 2005

Surovell, Todd

“An Independent Evaluation of the Younger Dryas Extraterrestrial Impact Hypothesis”



5 Responses to “+2% Concentration of Dung Fungus Spores=Significant Megafauna Populations”

  1. The Woods of Home « GeorgiaBeforePeople Says:

    […] studies have concluded that megafauna populations began to decline as early as ~15,000 BP (https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2010/05/13/2-concentration-of-dung-fungus-sporessignificant-megafau…).  All terminal dates on megafauna fossils fall between ~13,500 BP-~12,000 BP in calender years.  […]

  2. Thomas Harris Says:

    Posted to markgelbart.wordpress.com

    It turns out that the Carolina Bays are most likely the result of steam voids in a massive sand ejecta blanket from a large impact in the Michigan or Minnesota region while that region was under the ice sheet. The voids (bays) are perfectly consistent with chunks of ice of various size from the huge blast being carried up and out with the ejecta blanket, flashing to steam early in the ride, and thus creating the voids, of which over 10,000 are now documented and carefully measured using modern aerial survey data.

    The problem with the CBays is that they are voids. This means that looking WITHIN them for evidence is really looking at the surface underneath them, the surface that they (or the the ejecta blanket containing those voids) was laid down on top of. Since they cover such a vast area of the continent, naturally the surfaces below the CBays as a whole have a wide range of different dates, those surfaces being geologic formations of various epochs. Very simple if you look in the right places (not in the voids/Bays but outside of them and around their edges).

    The sand structure around them is what forms the CBays. Even Gradualists understand that the sand sheet overtop multiple other regional structures of different epochs is problematic due to its massive scale. And there it is for everyone to look at and study. The sand fines in the direction going away from the proposed area of the primary impact – yet another tell-tale signature of natural phenomenon of blast ejecta. If you don’t believe it, study the sand. Just be aware that you may end up supporting Catastrophist science with your results if you do it correctly (according to unbiased scientific method, in true, humble scientific method).

    The CBay structures are found in a perfect butterfly pattern symmetric about the axis of a low angle impact trajectory coming from the North East. Such patterns are easily observed when looking at many different astronomical bodies. Analysis of the (vast number of) CBay locations and their axial alignments matches the impact model exactly when loft time and the rotation of the Earth are accounted for (!) Think carefully about the odds of that. The chances of that being a coincidence is about the same as the chance that earth is only a couple of thousand years old. Probably not.

    This is a very basic and simple explanation. No hand waiving, just going with the least complex theory of formation. Wind and wave experiments don’t produce CBay shapes, and there is no evidence of similar type winds through history up and down the eastern plateau, let alone for the CBay structures found to the west of the proposed impactor trajectory. Why cling to a more complex and less fact-based CBay formation theory such as wind/wave? That seems like unscientific bias, clearly.

    Further, the size of the 10k+ documented and carefully measured CBays (centimeter accuracy laser altimetry and computer based geometric matching) falls perfectly into a long tail gaussian distribution that would happen to result from the impact scattering of Ice Sheet chunks. And that, my friends, is no coincidence. Think about it carefully.

    Good thing there are so many of those Bays and they measure to a perfect gaussian distribution of size, otherwise the Gradualists would continue to ignore the obvious truth, but that is another issue all together. This impact evidence may not even be related to the large surface melt/flow features in Norther Minnesota that seem to flow around iceberg size areas of non-melted surface rock, all on otherwise flat topography with no slope to force the flowing melt, in an area of the continent where no volcanism has taken place for 2.5 BILLION years. Could still be unrelated….

    The only thing shocking about this whole concept is that any scientist would have a knee-jerk reaction against it without giving fair weight to the facts on either side of the debate.

    It isn’t clear why many geologists “won’t look up.” Could Earth actually be the only place in the universe where ET impacts don’t happen? Yes, in the same case that our planet is only 6,000 yrs old! (random number picked as an unlikely example). Or, in another case where the Earth is still flat, perhaps. As scientists we need to accept this reality and move on.

    More likely, Ice Sheets and an atmosphere substantially effect the impact process and resulting geological signature of such events, go figure. And yes, there is still loads of science that needs to be done in those areas of research. Its hard to get funding for such work, however, when impact research is continuously discounted by much of the geologic scientific community. Too often this is the unprofessional, childish and rather disappointing case. Are we scientists or simply spoiled children?

    Now, what does lasting impact damage under an ice sheet look like? What if the impactor was on a low angle trajectory? How big an impact would it even take to make lasting surface featuring under how thick an ice sheet? We don’t really know, do we? Sounds like a good opportunity to employ some science, yes? So lets get on with that effort instead of living with our heads ‘buried in the sand’!

    The reality of the situation is obvious. Impact events happen all the time on Earth. In general they are almost never big enough to be the direct cause of immediate continental extinctions. But contribute they can, oh yes to be quite sure. Impact events don’t have to be so big to really mess with the climate and food chain, which then tends to lead to major ecosystem shifts over hundreds of years or even thousands of years afterward. This is especially true if predation stresses are also on the rise for any given reason, for example the spreading of mankind through a given region/ecosystem. Think about it carefully.

    Once we accept that Earth is nothing special in the eyes of the uncountable lurking bolides of our cosmic neighborhood, we then have a path to more truthful, unbiased, professional science as it should be practiced, as a humble search for the truth. So lets keep our biases and egos in check, and try to stay humble in our search for truth. This means respecting our fellow scientists and contributing maturely and responsibly to the debate. And if you want to completely ignore cosmic impact as an influence on planet Earth, then you may think twice about bothering with procreation. Just a thought.

    Thomas Harris
    Brooklyn NY

  3. markgelbart Says:

    There is no convincing evidence that Carolina Bays are the result of any kind of extraterrestrial impact. Scientists have been unable to replicate Firestone’s studies.

    I wrote a recent blog entry about this.


    The majority of geologists (and I agree with them) believe Carolina Bays were created by a combination of peat fires along with wind and water erosion.

  4. Thomas Harris Says:

    Mr. Gilbert,

    Please don’t cop out so easily. (“Everyone else is a Gradualist so I should go with the other sheep”) Please don’t be so sheepish. Stand up for yourself! Are you a scientist or aren’t you?

    A majority of scientists used to think the world was flat. They are long dead now and we have move far beyond that limited hypothesis. That limited world view. Luckily that hypothesis didn’t explain enough. Otherwise you and I wouldn’t be around, with Columbus never opening the Euro floodgate to this continent. Should we be embarrassed for the Flat Earthers? No, we should be humble and understand that putting down others doesn’t make our science better than theirs. It just shows our own immaturity.

    And remember, even the USGS has a web page on cosmic impacts, so it they say its ok to believe, it must be OK!
    Look! They even use the word BOLIDE. There, I said it! I’m in trouble now….

    A simple question: How many words can you reduce those wind/wave/dating/peatfire theories to, and still account for the formation of every one of them, including the ones in Nebraska? All 20 thousand +, no cheating. Can you reduce it to 7 words or less? Even for the Western cases?

    Lets see, “reversing wind, waves, peat fire, (fill in more words here for how water got to all the elevations where they exist including the ones on the dry highlands in Nebraska where there is no water, why they are all aligned nearly parallel, why they are equally spaced from a single central axis, why they are located symmetric about that axis, why the sand fines uniformly moving away from that axis, why the sand is all of uniform chemistry, why it is laid out conformally on slopes both up and down as well as on the flat, why is there a there a distinct northern limit to the Nebraska cluster of CBays that EXACTLY COINCIDES WITH THE ICE SHEET TERMINUS, etc., etc.)”

    I think that will definitely be far more than 7 words. So why not adapt a simpler model? Fear? Sheepishness? Preferred ignorance? If you ignore the ET factor in Earth’s geologic record then ‘heaven forbid’. (bolide’s gonna git ya!)

    The impact theory reduces to 7 words and accounts for all 20 thousand+ Carolina Bays including the inland higher elevation Nebraska cases and all of the details I mention above. Every last one:
    “hydrated silicate bolide, grazing impact, ice sheet”
    7 words. Go on now, you try….

    Actually, why not try ANY model that would explain how lots of cubic miles of very uniform sand could get conformally deposited over thousands of square miles of otherwise different geologic and topographic regions all at once in a single layer. How few words can you get your governing model down to?

    Now, I’m not being sarcastic here. I’m trying to be scientific. Would it take you 10 or 50 or 150 words to get any where near all of those explanations into a single governing model? I don’t know. You tell me. How many words?

    Reductionist exercise concluded.

    The guys developing this theory (http://cintos.org/LiDAR_images/index.html) aren’t even using the typical markers that Firestone and half a dozen of his co-authors repeatedly isolated samples for, probably scared away by fool bloggers and highly politicized climatology. The guess based on what the distal ejecta blanket covered, and what has since covered/moved/changed the ejecta blanket, is now somewhere around 40 ka for the origin of the Carolina Bays.

    But the ignorant resistance to any hypothesis not fitting a Gradualist model is most disturbing, disrespectful, and truly unprofessional when you help to smear someone’s reputation in the process. And following the other sheep is what will lead you to the slaughter. What about thinking for yourself?

    I definitely see plenty of scientific content in your blog, plenty of inference to critical scientific reasoning, so whats the problem with thinking critically ON YOU OWN? That guy Firestone is as solid as they come. You don’t get to a position like his, woking with the colleagues that he does, by shoddy field work and hap hazard lab technique. Please.

    He will reproduce those findings, just like he and his team had to dozens of times during there extensive research, if asked to prove himself. The sad part is, he would probably be happy to show you how, but you don’t deserve that privilege for your immature lack of respect. Seriously.

    Yes, isolating 5 or 6 pieces of nanodiamond from many liters of sand is a technically rigorous process. Just think about the volume or mass ratio of what you start with and what you goal is. Its a staggering problem. It literally makes a needle in a haystack seem like a vacation. All that takes is burning the haystack.

    A few nanodiamonds out of liters of strata is one in a billion or worse. No wonder he can do it and so many others can’t. When you say Firestone is out to lunch or falsified data, you are messing with his livelihood, so be careful. When you claim others are not technically proficient enough to do what he did, that should be no surprise considering how difficult, how technically challenging it is. Impossible, no. But easy to goof till you get the hang of it, sure, just like any technically challenging process would be to master. And master it they have. Thats why Firestone and West demand respect.

    He probably did error in his paper by assuming other scientist knew more than they do about such technically challenging work. That has been rectified by publication of the technique down to deeper detail. The Dutch team then used the technique and found the markers, elevated from the local background, at/near the YDLB on the European continent, so there you go.

    Astoundingly, the Dutch found a date difference of just 100 years from the standard 12.9 ka and then concluded that finding the ET markers does NOT support the YDLB impact theory (!?!), so seemingly they have some Gradualist prejudice and desperately need to express it even when, or especially when, they have to admit Firestone was right! Or perhaps they honestly believe they had a local event at a slightly different time and want to claim it as their own, separate from YDLB. But don’t knock Firestone! By doing so you only erode your own already weak position on this subject. Instead you should keep an eye on the debate, listen and learn.

    Your statement is true: “Scientists have been unable to replicate Firestone’s studies.” At first.

    It is also true that scientists HAVE BEEN ABLE to replicate Firestone’s studies more recently. But your negative comment stays up in public view while that expert and highly regarded scientist has to make a living. That is obnoxious. Its like your are a paid mouthpiece for some kind of political disinformation campaign to discredit Global Climate Change or something. You’re not, are you? Didn’t you learn ‘no put downs’ in grade school?

    If you are noticing speciation as some possible result of the CBays existence, which is seems you may be with your detailed observations of flora and perhaps fauna as well in and around the CBays, then you should get into that further to figure out the epoch of such adaptation. (You do believe in Evolution, right?) I’m guessing its in the 40 ka range.

    You seem to be a very good observer of your local environment, so see if you can put a date on the formation of the Carolina Bays using those skills of yours! Just think, you could be referenced in, or even present a paper collaborating an impact hypothesis! Now THERE is a rare honor in all of science.


    Thomas Harris

    PS those blueberries are looking good.

    • markgelbart Says:

      First off, the name is Gelbart, not Gilbert.

      Second, I’m not a scientist, nor have I ever claimed to be. I’m a science writer with the right to have an opinion.

      Third. The Carolina Bays in Nebraska have been dated to be over ~27,000 years old. This makes them far too old to have originated from the ET comet impact proposed by Firestone. William Zanner conducted a study of these geological features and determined they originated from wind blowouts and were later covered with loess–sediment created when the glacier to the north scraped bedrock. Of course, there were no Carolina bays north of the glacier terminus as you stupidly stated. The glacier scraped the topography clean and the massive ice on top of the land prevented the formation of wind blowouts.

      Fourth. Carolina Bays are not all in the same layer. They have different ages. Their origins are as much as tens of thousands of years apart. Some are 100,000 years old; others are as young as Lake Mattumuskeet in North Carolina…6,000 years old (did you bother to read my link?). The Indians even witnessed the formation of the bay. These different ages alone are enough to debunk an ET impact as a cause of Carolina Bay formation.

      Fifth. I never said Firestone falsified his data. I wrote that other scientists can’t replicate his findings.

      Sixth. Nobody paid me to bash Firestone. There’s no media conspiracy to debunk his claims. It’s just not very hard for scientists to use existing data and common sense to crush his wild unsupported hypothesis.

      Seventh. Calling me immature and a sheep does nothing to support your case.

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