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Prehistoric People Hunted Island's Dwarf Deer to Extinction

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Panama dwarf deer PANAMA CITY, PANAMA—People living on Panama’s Pedro González Island some 6,200 years ago grew maize and root crops, fished, gathered palm fruits and shellfish, and hunted dwarf deer, opossums, agoutis, iguanas, and large snakes. But they eventually hunted the dwarf deer to extinction. “When I was washing the animal bones from the first test cut in 2008, out fell a deer ankle bone called a calcaneum. It was so tiny that I realized we had come across a population that had probably dwarfed through isolation,” archaeologist Richard Cooke of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute said in a press release. Animals on Panama’s Pearl Islands became isolated when the seas rose some 8,500 years ago. Over time, isolated animals competing for limited resources can undergo a reduction in size. An adult deer on Pedro González Island weighed less than 22 pounds. Cooke and his team recovered some 2,500 fragments of dwarf deer bones that had been butchered, burned, smashed, and bore human teeth marks from a midden near the coast. Fewer bones were recovered in the youngest layer of the midden, and those that were found were from younger individuals. No deer bones were found after 2,300 years ago. To read more about archaeology in Panama, go to "Pirates of the Original Panama Canal."

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