If I could live during the Pleistocene (part two)

As I noted in last week’s blog entry, I don’t like roughing it.  If I’m going to live 41,000 years BP, I want to live in a nice sturdy house that would keep me safe from hungry bears, big cats, wolves, and rough weather.  I’d build a big adobe brick house with a wall around ten acres behind it where I could have a garden, fruit orchard, grain fields, and room to raise livestock such as milk cows, chickens, ducks and geese.

If I could live 41,000 years BP, I’d reside in an adobe house.  Adobe bricks are simple to make, only requiring mud, grass or sand, and sun.

My adobe house would have double thick walls, and raised windows with bars in front of them to prevent beasts from breaking into my abode and making a meal of me.  (For more about adobe houses see this link–     http://desertphile.org/adobe/adobe.htm)

In front I would have a raised platform or balcony for wildlife viewing, and on occasion to provide a place for hunting when I need meat.  Most of my home would be one story, but I’d have a tower room, built not unlike a lighthouse, which would afford a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape.  To improve the view, I’d clear a circle of land around my dwelling which would also serve as a firebreak.  My water supply would come from a well.  A dry toilet, or clivis multrum, would take care of my waste.  

Woodstoves would keep me warm in the winter, but I don’t think I’d need an air conditioner because this is the Ice Age, and summers are comfortable.  Solar units, and a generator, using wood alcohol that I would manufacture,  provide my electricity.  Of course, I’d have all necessary machines–bulldozers, bushhogs, trucks, boats, etc.  All engines would be modified to run on wood alcohol.

My Pleistocene adobe house is located in what’s now Elbert County on a hill one mile north of the Broad River and two miles west of the Savannah River.  In my opinion the Georgia piedmont (at least in the still rural areas) is the prettiest region of the state.  I even like it better than the north Georgia mountains.  I’d locate my home relatively close to a river for the easy source of protein–fish, turtles, freshwater mussels, and crayfish.  It would be necessary for me to maintain a dirt road between my house and the river.

I can take an educated guess as to what kinds of plants and animals I would encounter around my house.  There are only two Pleistocene-aged fossil sites in central Georgia (Nodoroc and Little Kettle Creek), though there are many more to the north and south.

Nodoroc is a bog that formerly was a mud volcano, last erupting in 1810 with a massive release of carbon dioxide.  These mysterious types of eruptions have also occurred in African lakes within the last few decades.  Nodoroc is a Creek Indian word meaning gateway to hell because the Indians used to execute criminals and toss them in this bog.

Scientists found plant macrofossils and pollen here, dating to 28,000 years BP, during a brief weak interstadial just before the Last Glacial Maximum.  The forest around the site consisted of an interesting mix of northern and southern species of pine as well as oak.  Northern species of pine such as white, red, and jack tend to have smaller grains of pollen, while southern species, such as shortleaf, tend to have larger grains.  Both size variations were found here, though it’s not possible to identify exact species, based on pollen.  But some plant macrofossils, though not in good enough condition for certain identification, compared favorably to red and/or jack pine; others compared favorably to shortleaf pine.  Because both northern and  southern species of pine occurred here then, the climate must have had mild summers and mild winters

Current range map of the red pine (Pinus resinosa).  Most of where it currently ranges was under glacial ice during the Ice Age, so it must have occurred south of this area then.  I propose that northern species of pine such as red and jack (Pinus banksiana) spread throughout the upper south following cold arid climate cycles when river beds dried out and wind blew the sand into large eolian sand dunes.  Scrub oak and grass initially colonized these dunes, but when precipitation increased as an interstadial began, lightning-induced fires burned the scrub oaks forests and grasslands, allowing fire-adapted pines to colonize these areas.  Eventually, as the climate continued to get warmer and wetter, hardwood trees outcompeted and replaced these shade-intolerant species.  Insterstadials never lasted long enough for hardwood forests to completely outcompete northern pines–a return to cold arid conditions would’ve probably killed many deciduous trees, allowing pine to regain territory.  But the current interglacial we live in now has lasted long enough for broad-leafed forests to shade out red and jack pines in the upper south, except for isolated relic populations of the former in small areas of West Virginia.

Hickory, spruce, and fir pollen were also common; chestnut, beech, and maple were present in low numbers.  The understory consisted of alder, blueberry and/or rhodadendron, and hazlenut.  Enough ragweed, grass, and sedge pollen was present to suggest the presence of large meadows or small prairies, making up to 25% of the landscape.

Little Kettle Creek is the only Pleistocene-age animal fossil site in the entire piedmont region of southeastern North America.  Teeth and bones of mammoth, mastodon, bison, white tail deer, (cf) southern bog lemmings, (cf) red backed voles, and catfish were recovered here.  The two rodents no longer range farther south than Kentucky, again indicating cooler summers for central Georgia during the Ice Age.  Mammoth and bison grazed the meadows;  mastodon and deer foraged the forest edge and streamside woodlands.  Growth rings on the catfish bones are evidence of colder winters than those of today because modern day catfish in warm southern states don’t have dormant growth cycles like fish found in northern states.

Fossil sites to the north and south of the piedmont have more species and most of them probably also lived in what’s now central Georgia as well.  Around my Pleistocene house I would also expect to see Jefferson’s ground sloth, elk, horses, tapirs, llamas, peccaries, dire wolves, jaguars, saber-tooths, bears of at least once species, giant beavers, and many smaller species of extant mammals that no longer occur in state but still live to the north and west.  Examples of interesting small species I’d expect to see are the hognosed skunk, red squirrels, and the extinct noble chipmunk.  I’d also expect to see a much greater variety of birds than I’d see today in an unspoiled wilderness devoid of human habitat destruction and pesticide use.  I’d be on the lookout for northern ravens, magpies, prairie chickens, upland sandpipers, terratorns, California Condors, and extinct species of vultures and eagles.  Birds that are rare or extinct today but were common then include bald eagles, ivory-billed woodpeckers, Carolina parakeets, passenger pigeons, swans, and cranes. 

That abundance of wildlife is the reason I really wish I could move into my Pleistocene home.

One final thought for today: This Ice Age ecosystem I describe was the norm.  Today’s interglacial ecosystem is an aberration because Ice Ages last ten times longer than interglacials.

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5 Responses to “If I could live during the Pleistocene (part two)”

  1. Mark Says:

    I’m offended you would bring milk cows and chickens back to 41000 BC with you. What grains would be in your fields?

  2. markgelbart Says:

    Oh, and the grains would include wheat, corn, rice, rye, oats, buckwheat, amaranth, and quinoa. Buckwheat as fodder is supposed to make chicken taste good.

  3. Mark Says:

    Relax Mark, I’m kidding. Bison milk cheese and turkey eggs will do fine…..OK, um… maybe not. Any chance you cover woodrats, squirrels, chipmunks in the future? I’m searching Allegheny woodrats in north Alabama also.

    • markgelbart Says:

      In Audubon’s journal he remarks about how bison milk tastes good, but to get it they, of course, had to kill the cows, then empty the udder.

      I’m interested in squirrels, and other rodents. Some time in the distant future, I’ll do a blog entry about them, but there’s none planned for the immediate future. My next blog entry is about turtles.

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