Human Perceptions of Megafaunal Extinction Events Revealed by Linguistic Analysis of Indigenous Oral Traditions
Wehi, Priscilla M.; Cox, Murray P; Roa, Tom; Whaanga, Hemi
Human settlement into new regions is typically accompanied by waves of animal extinctions, yet we have limited understanding of how human communities perceived and responded to such ecological crises. The first megafaunal extinctions in New Zealand began just 700 years ago, in contrast to the deep time of continental extinctions. Consequently, indigenous Māori oral tradition includes ancestral sayings that explicitly refer to extinct species. Our linguistic analysis of these sayings shows a strong bias towards critical food species such as moa, and emphasizes that Māori closely observed the fauna and environment. Temporal changes in form and content demonstrate thatMāori recognized the loss of important animal resources, and that this loss reverberated culturally centuries later. The data provide evidence that extinction of keystone fauna was important for shaping ecological and social thought inMāori society, and suggest a similar role in other early societies that lived through megafaunal extinction events.
Keywords: Cultural evolution . Indigenous resource management . Megafauna . Moa . Oceania . New Zealand . Maori . Socio-ecological systems . Traditional ecological knowledge Introduction
Research Type: Journal Article
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