A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
A deep cave yields evidence of Paleoindians, climate change, and the demise of the megamammals.
North-central Ohio's flat, almost featureless landscape is covered with fields of corn, soybeans, wheat, and alfalfa as far as the eye can see. But at Sheriden Cave, more than 32 feet below the surface, we have found remains of plants and animals that tell of a very different landscape at the end of the Ice Age, some 12,000 to 13,000 years ago. Then, there were spruce and pine parklands, open patches of grassland interrupted by occasional cedars, and shallow streams and wetlands bounded by willows and poplars. Some of the animals inhabiting this landscape--white-tailed deer, raccoon, woodchuck, and fox--are found in Ohio today, while others--caribou, pine marten, and lemming--were far south of their modern ranges. Most spectacular were the now extinct species, including short-faced bear, giant beaver, stag moose, and herds of pig-like peccaries. In this game-rich environment, a small band of hunters made use of the cave.
But this landscape was only deceptively idyllic because the climate at the end of the Ice Age was unstable, and as it changed, so did the distribution of plants and animals. The extent and abundance of trees and grasses altered continuously and animal communities also changed: the ranges of some species shifted, another 30 types, large game known as megamammals, became extinct.
Kenneth B. Tankersley is an assistant professor at Kent State University. Brian G. Redmond is head of archaeology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. The National Science Foundation and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History provided generous support for this project.