Researchers in the US have taken on a significant study of megaherbivores. They have compiled a record of herbivore extinctions in eastern Africa that spans 7 million years! It has long been thought that early humans had hunted the 2,000-pound herbivores to extinction.
However, new research suggests that climate change beat them to the punch. Today the world only has five megaherbivores in existence, and they all live in Africa. The hippopotamus, giraffe, elephant, white rhino, and black rhino are the only ones left.
About 50,000 years ago, just as our ancestors were learning to use tools and spreading out across the globe, the vast majority of megaherbivores went extinct. The extinctions were widespread – every region of the world was impacted.
New studies suggest that climate change had contributed to deforestation and the spread of grasslands long before humans began to hunt and eat the megaherbivores. As atmospheric carbon dioxide levels lowered, forests began to disappear. Pastures became the reigning habitat. This change, in turn, left many animals without shelter or food.
Assistant Professor Tyler Faith says “Our analyses show that there is a steady, long-term decline of megaherbivore diversity beginning around 4.6 million years ago. This extinction process kicks in over a million years before the very earliest evidence for human ancestors making tools or butchering animal carcasses and well before the appearance of any hominin species realistically capable of hunting them, like Homo erectus.”
In addition to not being responsible for the downfall of the 28 megaherbivore lineages that became extinct, our ancestors are not likely the cause of the extinction of carnivores from the same period. The carnivores that went extinct probably preyed on the megaherbivores, and, like the megaherbivores, they too died out when their food died out.
Professor Faith pointed out that while their data suggests climate change and environment were key factors that “It follows that in the search for ancient hominin impacts on ancient African ecosystems, we must focus our attention on the one species known to be capable of causing them – us, Homo sapiens, over the last 300,000 years.”
The team’s findings were published in the journal Science.
It was just another day, and Mike Smith had set out to do what he loved the most: looking for buried treasure with his metal detector. Ever since he was a little, he had dreamt of striking gold with it one day, but even he knew the chances were slim. When the day actually arrived, his world turned upside down!
Meet Mike Smith of Pembrokeshire
Mike Smith is a local from Pembrokeshire, Wales, and he has a knack for metal detecting. So, it was nothing out of the ordinary for him to venture out one day with the hope of finding some treasure buried somewhere. Stumbling upon gold was this detector hobbyist’s dream!
As he was calmly expecting the ground, a loud beep erupted from the machine. The adrenaline pumped through his veins as he moved the detector over the wet soil again. What could be down there?
A Childhood Dream
Mike had grown a love for metal detecting ever since he was 12. It all began with his father buying him a metal detector as a Christmas present.
From that moment onward, the metal detector became his new buddy, and he made sure to take it out for a spin whenever he could. Nothing gave him more thrill than the shrill sound of his detector after it could determine something was buried underneath the ground.
Curious by Nature
“Curiosity killed a cat, but satisfaction brought it back” – we have always heard one side of the story. In his case, the satisfaction was overwhelming!
Mike has always been an inquisitive guy. So when the metal detector binged, he had registered that he would see the end of it – whatever was down there. The real zinger is, he perhaps never imagined he’d dig up such treasure. The last thing he thought is that he’d have to get the authorities involved!
Checking Out the Rest
Followed by the first beep, Mike started sweeping the remaining field. Generally, when someone walks away from the find, the beeping gets fainter until it stops completely. However, Mike’s case was different!
It was somewhat weird. His detector beeped louder as he went further away from the original position of the first beep. He thought for one second; maybe the detector was malfunctioning. Or was something buried deep into the core of the field?
Starting the Dig
At this point, Mike’s detector beeped all across the field. He knew that the only thing he could do was trust his instincts. He could walk away from it, but that would actually be against his nature. His instincts urged him to start digging.
He reached for his handy shovel and set up work on the wet soil. He started with a foot wide hole, about two feet deep. Even at that moment, he had no clue what he was going to discover.
What is This?
It wasn’t as if Mike was using his metal detector on that spot for the very first time. He had done it before and recovered a few old coins, but they weren’t of much worth. For this try, he didn’t dig up any penny or an animal bone.
The smooth surface of the small, round object was glistening under the sun. Very carefully, he picked it up. It did look like a coin, but he wasn’t sure. He rubbed at it for a while, and the engraving began to surface!
No Time to Settle
Perplexed, he flipped the object both ways multiple times, trying to decipher what on earth it was. Mike noticed a figure engraved on one side while the other displayed some messages.
When he saw that there was a ring attached to the top, he was sure it wasn’t a coin. It was almost as if it was stuck to a clip or chain at some point. However, he didn’t dwell on it for too long as he had already noticed something else in the dirt.
It Won’t Move!
It was quite easy retrieving the first one, but the second object was putting up a fight. Mike put his shovel down and used his hands to start digging further, hoping the fingers will be able to reach the level of depth at which the mystery item was stuck better.
Unfortunately, it didn’t show any signs of loosening up, even after Mike tried to get a better grip by sitting back on his heels. Whatever it was, it definitely enjoyed staying suctioned. However, Mike wasn’t one to give up.
Digging Deeper for More
Despite all the tugging with full strength, the object didn’t seem to move an inch. It was confusing, though, because, from the looks of it, the old, rusty piece of metal didn’t seem that heavy. Since his efforts weren’t going anywhere, Mike quickly brewed another plan.
Getting back on his knees, he started removing soil from around the artifact. He figured jiggling the sand would loosen the object’s grip on it. It’s sad how some things in life aren’t that easy.
Seems to Be a Connection
It was his second attempt at moving the soil, and Mike could detect that the mysterious object was definitely connected to something. He didn’t know what this “something” could be; he had no furthest idea. The very fact that there was something even more mysterious than the coin just tingled his curiosity senses.
More questions started to crowd his mind, but he continued the dig. Why was it so heavy? What he found hidden deep in the underbelly of the field sent shivers down his spine.
The Mystery Unravels
Much like any pro treasure hunter would do, Mike continued digging around the rigid object. With time, he discovered a second object followed by a third. Eventually, a eureka moment happened, and he realized that those mysterious round objects happened to be links!
His entire body crept up with goosebumps at the sudden eerie turn of events. What were these chains used for? More importantly, what would they lead to – if there was something at all?
Unending Links to It
Mike’s exhumation process kept going on the mystery links, but he began to think that the thing seemed to be going on forever. He was starting to get more confused until he found the end of the old chain. This arrival brought back another question: what were the chains originally attached to?
At this point, his mind was racing. The possibilities were endless – he just had to find the correct connection. To do it, he’d have to dig some more. However, it was time to call it a day.
The Light Was Fading
While Mike was totally engrossed in trying to disclose the colossal mystery he had stumbled upon, he had paid no attention to the evening sun setting behind the great horizon; it was becoming night. He hadn’t anticipated that he’d spend so much time on the field, so he’d left the flashlight back home.
Now, no matter how much he hated leaving the site, he knew he wouldn’t be able to get things done even if he stayed. Whatever was beneath the ground would have to wait for the night.
Was it Dangerous?
As he lay in bed, Mike was unable to sleep. The events of the day replayed in mind over and over again, and he was trying to put the bits together. Only his closest friends had heard the news of the discovery from him, but he was worried that someone else might discover it and take possession.
What if someone had buried it down there on purpose to hide it from prying eyes? What would happen to him if he found it? After the overthinking, some unwelcome thoughts crept in.
Pembrokeshire Burial Chambers
He couldn’t shake the thought that he had uncovered something actually terrible and that it would cause him some unthinkable damages. The links wouldn’t just be buried in the farm ground without any reason, right?
Mike had recently come across a news story about the old burial sites situated under Pembrokeshire. Not an ideal thought in the pitch darkness of the night. What if his discovery was actually one of those sites? The feeling of fear was high, but it was eventually defeated by Mike’s intrigue.
Back at Break of Dawn
The sun had barely gone onto the orange sky when Mike stepped out the door, determined to put his mind to ease by gaining the answers to his questions. He headed straight for the dig site.
He needed to know what it was and why it was so unusually heavy. Mike might not have the slightest idea that the authorities would get to know about his find the same day and take their turn digging at it.
The Ground Opened Up
Fortunately, Mike found the site exactly as he had left it. So, he was assured that no one was snooping around his recently found treasure. With a newfound peace of mind, Mike started his second day of digging. More strange links started to surface from underneath, and his eyes caught on something abnormal.
There was a hole beneath the chain! Being the curious mind he is, Mike instantly pushed his shovel down, praying it would help the leverage. Another surprise: the ground opened up beneath his feet.
Mysterious Underground Cavern
Mike slipped, crashing through the ground, barely making a landing a few feet under the surface. To his luck, he didn’t receive any injuries, and his backpack was still on him – the backpack that contained a flashlight! He turned the light on and reached the conclusion that it wasn’t a hole but an actual chamber of sorts.
Mike inspected the floors, ceiling, and walls carefully, and with every passing minute, fear began to grip his heart even more. He couldn’t but think that he had found something ominous.
Bizzare Marking All Over
With closer observation of the cavern walls, Mike discovered bizarre scratching all over the surface. However, something about the scattered, hurried patterns felt familiar. It was almost as if Mike had seen those before somewhere.
He went to the wall that had the most prominent marking on them and ran his fingers. As his hands moved over the etching, he understood that his fingers found a “VV.” He also realized that the same marks had been repeated more than a dozen times.
Following the Patterns
Stumbling onto a strange cavern and finding some unsettling symbols all over the walls definitely made Mike very uneasy. What was even more terrifying was that it seemed like the symbols were scratched into the walls by trembling hands.
Someone must’ve been cowering with fear as they made these. His treasure hunter nature compelled him to go further. This only led him to yet another hold in the cavern. However, just by the entrance, laid something lapped in the mud.
An Unnerving Reveal
What was originally a fun afternoon trip to the ground turned into something spine-chillingly frightening. Those were human remains! His brain started brimming with all the theories as to why someone would be buried under a farm, with each conclusion scarier than the previous.
When he snapped out of his train of thoughts, Mike realized that the object was still in his hands – to be more specific, a human molar. He registered the severity of the situation and knew something needed to be done about this.
Discovery That Would Warrant Authorities
It took some serious mustering of courage to finally wipe the mud of the mystery item he had just discovered. When he did, Mike was left shell shocked. Beneath all the stiffened earth was something hard and brown. Mike did know what it resembled, but he was absolutely not ready to accept it.
As his years of love for metal detecting had prepared him, Mike was aware of the laws associated with such discoveries. With no way left, he had to inform the authorities of his findings.
Calling for Help
Now, he was under the farm in a cavern that possibly held some dark secrets, and he knew he needed to find a way to get out and immediately call law enforcement. Fortunately, he had brought his phone along with him. He called for his friends, and they arrived shortly, pulling him out of the darkness.
Mike was still shaking from the encounter. His hands hovered over the buttons of the phone as he tried to call the authorities. However, the reaction he received was unexpected.
A Laughing Stock
Mike called the officials at the National Museum of Wales, hoping they’d be able to provide answers (or maybe security) at this point. To his dismay, they started to make fun of him. The officers laughed at him, without putting an ounce of trust on the shaken up Mike.
In all honesty, it must’ve sounded odd – the sudden revelation. Imagine spending a regular day at the office, and then some guy calls up because he found an ancient coin under a farm!
Nothing but the Truth
Mike said during an interview that the only reason the archaeologists completely disregarded his words was that they had looked there before and hadn’t found anything. He struggled for a while, but he finally got them to believe his claims about the prospective burial site.
How? Then it dawned on him: Mike had totally skipped the part where he found human dentures and only mentioned the chain and the engravings. Once all the details were laid out, the museum officials had a grim tone.
Everyone Was in Shock
Mike shared his location with them and waited for the rescue party and the scientists. Upon arrival at the scene, the museum officials and archaeologists were completely in awe. In an interview, Mike commented that the look on their faces was pretty wild.
Aside from the fact that the authorities now trusted his words, Mike was happy that he was out of the hole and amongst more people. It was finally time to begin another round of the excavation – this time, with professionals.
One More Revelation
In June, the artifact removal procedure was initiated, four months after Mike had discovered it in February. With intricate plans and the proper equipment arranged, the archaeologists began the exhumation. This time, they came across two rusted chariot wheels.
This confirmed there was something bigger waiting to be discovered. Mike was in disbelief. How had things escalated so quickly? He had just been out with his metal detector like any other day, and now, here he was. For most treasure hunters, this remains a lifelong unfulfilled dream.
Name of the Finding
The initial discovery of the ancient, rusted chain had been a matter of great confusion to Mike. He didn’t imagine he would be able to know what it was used for, let alone figure out what it was linked to.
Mike answered the queries in an interview and said that the first thing was a piece of a Celtic horse harness junction. Mike also added that his friends didn’t think he could top his first-day discovery, but the second day arrived, and the rest is history!
Bearing Special Meaning
According to Rachel Hall, an archaeologist, the engraving on the wall – the connected “VV” – is titled as witch marks. These were drawn to prevent witches from entering the premises. The specific ones founded by Mike are called Marian marks.
These are believed to be the initials of the Virgin Mary and meant to safeguard the site of markings. The marking of the cavern alerted authorities of some unfavorable events happening in Pembrokeshire ages ago. Frantically scribbled symbols meant someone almost was scared while engraving them.
Gateway to the Underworld
Alison Fearn, another archaeologist, says that the 14th- and 18th-century engravings were the local way of stopping demons from ascending to Earth. Since they were carved into almost all the available surfaces of the cavern, everyone including Mike was bound to agree.
Townsfolk must have assumed the entrance to the underworld started from the cavern – a topic that wasn’t taken lightly back then. However, that wasn’t all that Alison deduced from the Virgin Mary carvings.
Another Theory Behind the “VV”
Although the marks tend to symbolize defense against demons and other unholy spirits, there was one more theory yet to be revealed. Some are divided on the underworld opinion and believe that the village of Pembrokeshire was suffering from an overwhelming case of famine, poverty, or diseases.
These are matters that can very well be blamed on devilish spirits. A retired professor of the New Testament Language and Literature, John Charlesworth, explains that the townspeople were probably consumed by the superstitions. The village’s location plus the cavern made them panic.
Some More Discoveries
The archaeologists also discovered a bunch of other ancient historical items deep within the cavern. A brooch, some tool handles, and few other bronze bridle fittings. Mike had no idea what they could be used for, but he assumed it had something to do with the chariot.
After years of decay and corrosion, the items had all turned green when recovered. However, the bronze bits and pieces were still well protected in a layer of bright red enamel.
Understanding Ancient Traditions
The townspeople may have been scared of the cavern being the gateway to the lair of demons, but someone – either a queen or chieftain – had been put to rest there with their chariot. Mike said he recognized it immediately as he read about this before.
He wished it would be him one day who would discover something like that, but for it to really happen was a privilege. Archaeologists believe the chariot goes back to 2,500 years. Also, in contrast to what Mike believed, there were no human remains.
Awkward Burial of Chariot
It was later revealed that what Mike had mistaken as human teeth at first actually belonged to one of the horses. It was laid to rest alongside the chieftain or queen and the chariot.
After some more research, it was discovered that, in the Iron Age, high-ranking officials would generally be buried alongside their chariot, weapons, and noble steeds. Mike further said that the chariot wheels would be put down flat in a typical burial. However, this discovery was definitely more unique.
Leveled Out the Ground
Mike believes that the high-ranking official had been buried within the chariot, their body sitting straight, as opposed to the burial next to the chariot. Of course, heaps of dirt must’ve accumulated over the chariot, but it has since flattened out.
After he learned more about the truth behind his discovery, Mike was still unable to believe how he and his trusty metal detector had managed to unearth something with such a rich history. The best part: it was only the beginning!
Bringing Out the Big Boys
Museum officials sealed the area off, and it was time to bring in the best instruments. Taking into account all the small artifacts Mike had discovered, a ground-penetrating radar looming over the farm seemed necessary – something that looks like it just popped out of a National Treasure film.
If you were blown away by Mike’s discoveries, you’d never imagine the power of a strong geophysical sonar. The things it uncovered didn’t shock the officials anymore because it was almost expected at that point.
A Ditch Ring
After some meticulous survey of the land, archaeologists came across something that could only be described as a ditch ring! This 12-meter circle surrounded the site. You’d think it stops here, right? Actually, they found multiple ditch rings here.
Researchers further discovered two more burials located in the ditch rings. This was all the confirmation they needed to conclude that Mike had unearthed a Celtic settlement, which had somehow managed to stay off every radar for quite a while now.
The Importance of the Discovery
The Museum of Wales has a lot planned for Mike’s site. The museum spokesperson said that a preliminary excavation was jointly carried out on the site of the artifacts by Dyfed Archaeological Trust and Amgueddfa Cymruover the summer.
They intended to create a wider museum project to encourage the involvement of locals in revealing stories of the prehistoric times. Many museums approached Mike to buy his discoveries, and he became the center of archaeological focus everywhere.
What’s Next for Mike?
Apart from the ditch ring burial sites, a total of 34 other items were discovered by Mike. He was extremely proud of his discovery and shared his plans of continuing detecting and digging up treasure. He wouldn’t reveal the exact amount he made from the artifacts sales, but he said it was a countable number.
For the site, authorities issued a statement that a full excavation would be done, but it would need hefty funding. It had to be done to understand the full importance of the discoveries, though.
An Expensive Affair
The principal curator of prehistoric archaeology at the National Museum of Wales, Adam Gwilt, explained that these findings perhaps witnessed some huge historical events of that time, as Iron Age people fought hard to protect their life and identity for the Roman invasion.
The project would be continued but would require healthy funding, and Adam and his team have collaborated with many partners to conduct a full investigation of the found artifacts.