Why the extinction of mammoths may have forced us to invent civilization


Why did we take so long to invent civilization? Modern Homo sapiens first evolved roughly 250,000 to 350,000 years ago. But initial steps towards civilization – harvesting, then domestication of crop plants – began only around 10,000 years ago, with the first civilizations appearing 6,400 years ago.

For 95 percent of our species’ history, we didn’t farm, create large settlements or complex political hierarchies. We lived in small, nomadic bands, hunting, and gathering. Then, something changed.

We transitioned from hunter-gatherer life to plant harvesting, then cultivation and, finally, cities. Strikingly, this transition happened only after the ice age megafauna – mammoths, giant ground sloths, giant deer, and horses – disappeared. The reasons humans began farming still remain unclear, but the disappearance of the animals we depended on for food may have forced our culture to evolve.