Paul S. Martin

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For the American archaeologist, see Paul Sidney Martin.
Paul Martin at Rampart Cave, home of the Shasta ground sloth, Grand Canyon, ca. 1975 (Photo: Thomas R. van Devender)
Martin's visualisation of human assault on megafauna.

Paul S. Martin (born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, 1928 - died in Tucson, Arizona September 13, 2010[1]) was a geoscientist at the University of Arizona who developed the theory that the Pleistocene extinction of large mammals worldwide was caused by overhunting by humans. Martin's work bridged the fields of ecology, anthropology, geosciences and paleontology.

In 1953 Martin received his bachelor's degree in zoology from Cornell University. In 1953 and 1956 he completed his master's and doctorate programs at the University of Michigan and then proceeded with postdoctoral research at the Yale University and the University of Montreal. He joined the faculty of the University of Arizona in 1957 and worked there until his retirement in 1989.[1] A case of polio, contracted while doing undergraduate field work in Mexico, forced Martin to rely on a cane, which restricted but did not end his field work.[2]

Overkill Hypothesis[edit]

Martin developed the theory known as “overkill” or the “blitzkrieg model”[3] based on his early insight that the sudden demise of large Ice Age mammal populations on different continents and at different times coincided with the arrival of humans. He believed that as they migrated from Africa and Eurasia to Australia, the Americas, and the islands of the Pacific, humans rapidly hunted the large animals endemic to each continent to extinction. Martin particularly focused his research on North America, whose late Ice Age fauna rivaled that of Africa today.[4]

There, he theorized, around 11,000 years ago, newly arriving humans hunted North America's Ice Age big game, including ground sloths, camels, mammoths and mastodons, to extinction.[5] The theory, summarized in Twilight of the Mammoths: Ice Age Extinctions and the Rewilding of America (2005) has been widely discussed and remained controversial. Critic Michael Fosha wrote that although Martin attempted to discuss and debunk alternative explanations of the extinction, he did not adequately examine mainstream theories like changes in climate and vegetation. According to Fosha, Martin presented a vivid account of prehistoric people's assault on nature "with the efficiency of a German panzer division" but Fosha felt that his views on archaeology were inaccurate. However, Fosha wrote that the book presents "excellent data on the Southwest" and deserves serious attention for it.[6]

Martin sometimes faced criticism from archaeologists and paleontologists who claimed earlier dates for human arrival in the Americas or later dates for certain extinct animals than the overkill theory would suggest. Martin maintained that such claims were the result of faulty scientific analysis and pointed out that no such dates had yet been independently verified.[7]


Martin also championed the concept of “rewilding”, or “resurrection ecology” in which extinct N. American Pleistocene fauna could be restored by establishing breeding populations of surviving animals from other continents (llamas, camels, lions and cheetahs) and introducing populations of animals analogous to extinct species, i.e., elephants for mammoths.[8][9]

According to Vance Haynes, "unlike so many people who get infatuated with their own theories, he [Martin] spent his professional career inviting criticism. He put together two critical conferences about Pleistocene extinctions, and the volumes that came out of those were pace-setting."[1]


  1. ^ a b c Mari N. Jensen. Paul S. Martin, Pleistocene Extinctions Expert, Dies. University of Arizona. Retrieved 2010-09-17. Archived 11 February 2011 at WebCite
  2. ^ Alan Weisman, The World Without Us, p. 68, Picador, 2007
  3. ^ Peter D. Ward, The Call of Distant Mammoths, p. 140, Copernicus, 1997
  4. ^ Alan Weisman, The World Without Us, pp 68-83, Picador, 2007
  5. ^ Amos Esty, Paul S. Martin. An interview with Paul S. Martin. Retrieved 2010-09-17. Archived 11 February 2011 at WebCite
  6. ^ Michael Fosha (2006). Book Review of Twilight of the Mammoths: Ice Age Extinctions and the Rewilding of America by Paul S. Martin. Great Plains Research: A Journal of Natural and Social Sciences. University of Nebraska - Lincoln. Vol. 16 No.2, 2006. pp. 204-205. Archived 11 February 2011 at WebCite
  7. ^ Paul S. Martin, Twilight of the Mammoths, Chapter 8, “Kill Sites, Sacred Sites”, University of California Press, 2005
  8. ^ Paul S. Martin, Twilight of the Mammoths, Chapter 10, “Restoration”, University of California Press, 2005
  9. ^ Alan Weisman, The World Without Us, p. 348, Picador, 2007

External links[edit]

  • Paul S. Martin (1973). The Discovery of America. An early summary of Martin's overhunting hypothesis published in Science, vol. 179, issue 4077, Mar. 9, 1973 pp. 969–974.
  • Baz Edmeades "Megafauna: First Victims of the Human-Caused Extinction" [1]