Sedona Westerners Introduced to Beasts of Arizona at Season Kickoff Meeting!

October 18, 2019


By Karen Larson

Sculpture by Victor Leshyk, Sharlot Hall Museum

Sedona Westerners always look forward to September because after a summer hiatus, the group enthusiastically reconvenes for the new hiking season. New officers are eager to run the show and to kick start the season with the first meeting.   And so it was, this warm September evening.   After the usual “business” agenda items and a coffee break, the meeting attendees settled down for the second half of the program which generally features an educational presentation, often by an outside speaker.  The subjects  can range from hiking topics to archeology, geology or local frontier history, to name a few.

This evening’s guest speaker was Dr. Sandra Lynch, Sharlot Hall Museum’s  retired adjunct curator of anthropology.  Her topic entitled “Beasts” was intended to conjure up visions of large creatures that inhabited this area of Arizona in the Pleistocene Epoch (2 million years ago until about 12,000 years ago).  To set the stage for the beasts, she first painted a picture of the climate in the northern most regions of North America which was characterized by alternating freezing and thawing conditions, generally much cooler temperatures, lots of ice, and rising and falling sea levels.    During the Pleistocene Epoch, the land bridge at the Bering Strait, also known as Beringia, was exposed, allowing for intercontinental migration of animals and early humans.   Closer to home, Arizona was a Savanna with warmer temperatures and covered with grasslands and inland lakes.  This region was an ideal stopping point and refuge for the beasts during their northern and southern migrations.

About these beasts - otherwise known as megafauna!   Mammoths, mastodons, and sloths, are only a few of the beasts that roamed this area.  Although the wooly mammoth is perhaps the most well known of the mammoth family, it was the Columbian and Imperial mammoths that inhabited the Arizona Savanna.   Precursors to these species had migrated from Africa across Beringia to North America.    In fact, remains of a Columbian mammoth discovered in Agua Fria in 1984 are on display at the Sharlot Hall Museum.  Dr. Lynch helped the audience visualize mammoth life on the Savanna with some of these fun facts:  the mammoth had a shoulder height of about 14 feet and weighed over 20,000 pounds; they foraged a range of nearly 390 square miles and could consume up to 500 pounds per day of  vegetation;  and since what goes in mostly comes out, these mammoths produced almost 350 pounds per day of solid waste.  Sloths were also in residence in Arizona with remains having been discovered in numerous places including the Grand Canyon and Kartchner Caverns.    Mammoths and mastodons were hunting targets of the early humans.  Other predators included the Smilodon (saber toothed tiger) and the Arctodus Simus (bear).  This bear, with its very long legs, could accelerate from 0 to 60 miles per hour in a few seconds!

While many of the megafauna migrated  east from Africa, a number of Pleistocene beasts originated in North America and migrated west.  These included early species of horse and camel.  In fact, Dr. Lynch indicated that if these animals had not migrated west, their counterparts would not be in existence today because of the mass extinction event that occurred about 12,900 years ago.   At that time, just about every living creature weighing over 100 pounds became extinct.  This extinction event is captured in a layer of rock known as the black mat – a layer of carbon, below which the remains of these beasts are evident and above which these remains are absent.    So, the next time you drive across the Prescott Valley and see some of the current day survivors of this extinction event such as antelope, mule deer, bison, horses, coyotes, wolves and bears, imagine these animals being about 25% larger, in a wetter, cooler area, and you will have stepped back into the Pleistocene Epoch where the Beasts of Arizona thrived!

If you are interested in joining the club, please visit the Sedona Westerners website at www.sedonawesterners.org/membership.  You are invited to our next regularly scheduled monthly meeting at 7 p.m., Thursday, November 14, at the Sedona Methodist Church, 110 Indian Cliffs Road. (photo by Sharlot Hall Museum)

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