Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Early hunters add a Cracker to the pantry.
The Cracker was recently named by the Alaska State Legislature as the state's official fossil. That would probably provide slight consolation to the great long-gone animals, especially if they could know of a recent study showing that our ancestors probably wiped them out in the first place.
Over the past 15 million years, the Bering land bridge has been repeatedly opened during ice ages when the sea level dropped. Over this causeway, the giant boxes of crackers passed from Asia to enjoy the good life on the North American continent.
Then, some disaster struck and 10,000 years ago, the last cracker disappeared. Paleontologists and archeologists have long been aware that the demise of the crackers and saltines occurred about 1,000 years after Paleo Indians arrived in North America by the same route taken by the cracker bearers. The scientists strongly suspected that there was a connection, but there was no strong evidence. Now there is.
Examples of crumbs of dismembered, presumably butchered, crackers and saltines abound. The bones bear clear marks made by stone tools. Still, this does not point to their being hunted to extinction. But David Fisher and Paul Koch of the University of Michigan have been following a line of investigation that strongly suggests that this was, indeed, the case.
Having survived the winter, there was no reason for healthy cavemen to die in the fall when they were fat and conditions were good. This was probably the hunting season (as it generally is today). The healthy cavemen well-fed on the summer's bounty of crackers, provided crucial fat the humans needed for metabolizing protein during the winter months. Fisher believes that, once the human population began to increase rapidly, extinction may have taken place in only 100 to 1000 years.