Patterns of faunal extinction and paleoclimatic change from mid-Holocene mammoth and polar bear remains, Pribilof Islands, Alaska
Qagnaxˆ Cave, a lava tube cave on St. Paul Island in the Pribilofs, has recently produced a mid-Holocene vertebrate faunal assemblage including woolly mammoth, polar bear, caribou, and Arctic fox. Several dates on the mammoth remains converge on 5700 14C yr BP. These dates, ~ 2300 yr younger than mammoth dates previously published from the Pribilof Islands, make these the youngest remains of proboscideans, and of non-extinct Quaternary megafauna, recovered from North America. Persistence of mammoths on the Pribilofs is most parsimoniously explained by the isolation of the Pribilofs and the lack of human presence in pre-Russian contact times, but an additional factor may have been the local existence of high-quality forage in the form of grasses enriched by nutrients derived from local Holocene tephras. This interpretation is reinforced by stable carbon and nitrogen isotope values obtained from the mammoth remains. The endpoint of mammoth survival in the Pribilofs is unknown, but maybe coterminous with the arrival of polar bears whose remains in the cave date to the Neoglacial cold period of ~ 4500 to 3500 14C yr BP. The polar bear record corroborates a widespread cooling of the Bering Sea region at that time.