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: Sumana and I did a podcast, basically a riff where I try to come up with better filler lines for "Froggy Went A-Courtin'". Special musical guest: me.

[Comments] (5) 1491: This book blew me away! (See also author Charles Mann's responses to J. Bradford Delong's students.) It does what Guns, Germs, and Steel didn't do, which was to integrate the inhabitants of the Americas into history, showing them as people who did things rather than as people who had things happen to them. I thought it focused too much on South America, but that's where all the stuff is.

Here's the main thing I don't understand. There are dueling explanations for what killed the mega beasts. My favored explanation has always been overkill, on the general rule that mega beasts never survive long when humans come on the scene. 1491 brings up some arguments against overkill being the sole mega beast killer, such as the fact that many non-mega beasts went extinct at around the same time. My non-expert opinion is that this is pretty weak sauce because humans are really good at killing things, and even if you only kill the mega beasts there's going to be ripple effects in the whole ecosystem. In fact, one of the mind-blowing parts of 1491 is how much of the ecological picture we have of the Americas it explains as coming from the sudden near-dieout of the primary predator (humans) through disease. Though the results there were overpopulation of other species, not extinction.

But whatever. I'm not wedded to any particular explanation or explanation combo for mega beast extinction. I'm also not wedded to whether the Clovis sites represent the earliest American cultures, or whether there are lots of pre-Clovis sites. 1491 argues for pre-Clovis sites, and GG&S argues against. But here's the thing. If there are pre-Clovis sites then you've got humans hanging out with megafauna for thousands of years before the mass extinctions. That hurts the overkill theory, but it also hurts the whole theory of human development as popularized by Diamond and Mann. Why didn't someone domesticate the horses or camels or megallamas, with all that implies?

PS: In other book news, Ventus, which I mentioned a few entries ago, is available as a free ebook. Take the curtain!


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