Test of Martin's overkill hypothesis using radiocarbon dates on extinct megafauna.
Following Martin [Martin PS (1973) Science 179:969-974], we propose the hypothesis that the timing of human arrival to the New World can be assessed by examining the ecological impacts of a small population of people on extinct Pleistocene megafauna. To that end, we compiled lists of direct radiocarbon dates on paleontological specimens of extinct genera from North and South America with the expectation that the initial decline of extinct megafauna should correspond in time with the initial evidence for human colonization and that those declines should occur first in eastern Beringia, next in the contiguous United States, and last in South America. Analyses of spacings and frequency distributions of radiocarbon dates for each region support the idea that the extinction event first commenced in Beringia, roughly 13,300-15,000 BP. For the United States and South America, extinctions commenced considerably later but were closely spaced in time. For the contiguous United States, extinction began at ca. 12,900-13,200 BP, and at ca. 12,600-13,900 BP in South America. For areas south of Beringia, these estimates correspond well with the first significant evidence for human presence and are consistent with the predictions of the overkill hypothesis.