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Why Have Giant Deer Become Extinct?


The scientist from the Institute of Plants and Animals Ecology, Russian Academy of Sciences (Ural Branch), has made a description of the giant dear remains, found in the Ural, and has determined their age. Giant deer Megaloceros giganteus originated as a species in the preglacial epoch, lived through the glaciation period and died out about 8-9 thousand years ago after the climate had become warmer. The remains will help to investigate how the giant dear lived and why this species disappeared. The research has been carried out with the help of the Russian Foundation for Basic Research grants 02-04-49431 and ‘The evolution of the mammalian fauna and flora in Western, Central and Eastern Europe during the Pleistocene-Holocene transition (25-10 kyr B.R.)’.

About ten thousand years ago when the glaciation period was already over, the giant or the so- called big-horned deer, contemporary of the mammoth and the wooly rhinoceros, still inhabited the Eurasian plains. They were real giants among ungulate animals: their horns with big blades, which resembled those of the fallow-deer or the elk, reached up to four meters in width. The deer used to pasture on humid meadows and frequently fell a prey to primeval hunters. Then the species has become extinct. Modern scientists are still investigating possible reasons for the giant deer disappearance.

P. A. Kosintsev, a researcher from Yekaterinburg, has studied the remains of the giant deer, found during the last decades in the Middle and South Ural. With the help of A. Lister and A. Stuart, British colleagues from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) , P. A. Kosintsev has determined the age of the findings. To this end the scientist used the radiocarbon analysis method with the accelerative mass-spectrometry. It turned out that the animals, the bones of which were dated, perished during the periods when the climate was changing: warm periods were being replaced by the cold ones and vice versa. Although the glaciation period ended about ten thousand years ago, some long periods of the climate cooling down and warming up took place repeatedly. It is very likely that these climatic changes caused the extinction of the giant deer species. An indirect indication that the climatic changes affected the disappearance of the species provides the fact that the bones of the deer were found in the same horizons with the remains of a variety of animals, this proves easy adaptability of the species to various surrounding animal species.

The giant deer bones were first found by the scientists at the end of the 18-th – beginning of the 19-th century. In particular, the majority of the skeletons were found in the peatbogs of Ireland. In 1803 Johann Blumenbach, well-known German anatomist and anthropologist from Go´´ttingen, described a new zoolite ungulate species based on the fossils and called this species “big horns”. Later on the bones were studied by a famous Englishman Richard Owen and by other scientists. The giant deer bones were found in Russia as well: the researchers frequently extracted them from the garbage at the sites of the Stone Age tribes. The giant deer remains were even found in the south of Russia, in the Crimea and in the Northern Caucasia. Some intact skeletons were excavated in Ryazan and Sverdlovsk regions. However, the entire history of the giant deer species has not been reconstructed so far and any finding is valuable to obtain more information about the animals and their habitat. The scientists need to determine the timeframes when the species inhabited and when it became extinct and to study the climate, fauna and flora of that period.

In the Ural the paleontologists have to collect the fossilized deer remains by small pieces. A small part of a scull was found in the pond nearby a town of Nevjansk, several fragments of the jaws were discovered in the grottos of Sikiayz –Tamak and Kulmetovsky, Chelyabinsk region, and in Bobyljok, Sverdlovsk region. In the peatbog of Shigirsk, Sverdlovsk region, there was found a dagger, which dated back to primitive times: it turned out that the dagger was made of the deer horns.

Sergey Komarov | alfa
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