Monday, May 14, 2012

Dwarf Bullying in Prehistoric Cyprus

Modern dwarf hippo baby.
Delicious in stews and on kabobs.
The mega fauna (large animals) that were present during the end of the last ice age simply died out. There has been extensive debate over their extinction. Some claim that climate change led to the extinction, while others maintain that human activity was responsible. This can be split relatively down the middle between your average FOX inundated Republican and CNN-devotee Democrat in America. However, in scientific circles the argument is slightly more nuanced, often depending on where the funding is coming from. I joke. I kid. It has nothing to do with financial backers... ... ...

I needed that triple ellipse to move on.

Anywho, we'll talk about both the Aceramic and Ceramic Neolithic cultures of Cyprus during the Neolithic podcasts (which are written, but not recorded as of yet). Traditionally, the Aceramic culture is considered the oldest culture of the area. This Aceramic culture is supposed to have arrived in Cyprus from somewhere in the Levant during the Holocene, after the Pleistocene animals of Cyprus had died out. Basically, scientists have always assumed that human beings never had any contact with the pygmy species that inhabited the island during the Pleistocene geological epoch. However, I just read an article by Alan H. Simmons entitled The First Humans and Last Pygmy Hippopotami of Cyprus. In the article, Simmons argues that the Aceramic site at Akrotiri Aetokremnos, settled around 10,000 BC, actually contains remains of both human beings and the pygmy hippopotamus in a way that shows contact between the two.

A lot of effort has gone into studying the extinction of the mega fauna all over the world during the last Ice Age. Basically people want to know if the Mammoth and his Ice Age giant buddies were wiped out by man or by natural causes. Simmons notes that pinpointing exact extinctions on humans has been difficult, but when it has it was usually associated with farming groups, rather than hunter-gatherer groups. But, on islands, pointing to human activity as a direct cause of extinction for an animal is easier to prove. Cyprus now might prove just that thing and rework what we know about the earliest human inhabitants of Cyprus.

The research that was gathered at Akrotiri Aetokremnos, if true, has to change the way we think about the population of the Mediterranean isles. First, its early date pushes the settlement back out of the Neolithic, past the Mesolithic and into the late Paleolithic. This alone would be fairly intriguing to certain types of folks. But, for the vast majority of us, who are constantly being inundated with anti-bullying messages nowadays, the interesting bits is what those meanies did to the pygmy hippo and dwarf elephants!

Drawing of a dwarf elephant on Sicily, which was
comparable to their Cypriot cousins. That's a fox to
the right for size purposes.
Both the dwarf elephant and the dwarf hippopotamus got to Cyprus during a period when the Strait of Gibraltar was actually a land bridge between Spain and North Africa. This created in essence a large pool. When the weather stayed dry for a long period, the Mediterranean Sea dried up creating a giant empty bowl with little pockets of water that were probably like the Dead Sea today. This allowed giant elephants and hippopotami to roam the basin. But when the weather got wetter and Sea levels rose a bit, the pool filled back up, trapping animals on what were suddenly islands. On a side note, it was for this reason that the Suez Canal was created, just incase the Mediterranean was ever to dry up again, we could let in water from the Indian Ocean. So Cyprus (and other little islands like Crete, Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica) had these mega mammals on them. The mammal developed insular dwarfism and shrunk down to like 2% of their big cousin's size. That's when men showed up on Cyprus and started to bully them. The bullying (as well as the presumed consumption of the little guys) led to animals dying out rapidly. I just can't imagine eating something as cute as pictured in the top left corner. But, to each their own. Gotta run, I'm about to overcook my Veal Saltimbocca!

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