UNIVERSITY PARK, PA.
If Pleistocene megafauna -- mastodons, mammoths, giant sloths and others -- had not become extinct, humans might not be eating pumpkin pie , say an international team of anthropologists.
Researchers believe that initially humans did not eat wild pumpkin and squash -- members of the cucurbita family -- because the wild fruit is not only bitter but also toxic to humans and smaller animals. However, clear evidence exists that very large animals -- megafauna -- that lived 12,000 years ago did eat these fruit.
"Lee Newsom (associate professor of anthropology, Penn State and study co-author) has recovered many wild gourd/squash seeds from ancient Mastodon dung, suggesting that large herbivores may have been an important feature in the natural history of these wild plants," said Kistler.
s. They believe that changes in distribution of the wild plants are directly related to the disappearance of the large animals.
"We performed an ancient DNA study of cucurbita including modern wild plants, domesticated plants and archaeological samples from multiple locations," said George Perry, assistant professor of anthropology and biology. "The results suggest, or confirm, that some lineages domesticated by humans are now extinct in the wild."
Without elephant-sized animals to distribute seeds, wild plants will grow only where the fruit drops -- as far as the pumpkin rolls. At the same time, the disappearance of megafauna altered the landscape from one of a patchwork of environments to something more uniform. Cucurbita are weedy plants that liked the disturbed landscape created by the megafauna, but fared less well in the new landscape of the Holocene.