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Fossils and Animal Extinction with KENNETH J. McNAMARA and SHARON LEVY

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Sunday, September 18, 2011 - 9:00pm

Since Paleolithic times, human societies have singled out fossil sea urchins as something unique and important. These fossils have been found, sometimes by the hundreds, in burial mounds, fashioned into ancient tools and beads, or used as good luck talismans. Around Europe these odd fossils have been called shepard’s crowns, sheep’s hearts, fairy loaves, snakes eggs and thunderstones. Even in more recent historical times, these beautiful fossils have been singled out to decorate churches or lined up along the windowsills of rural homes to ward off bad luck. But why have cultures for so long been fascinated with these very odd stones? Tonight on Inquiry we speak with KENNETH J. McNAMARA, senior lecturer in the Department of Earth Sciences and fellow of Downing College at the University of Cambridge. His new book, part paleontology, part anthropology and part folklore history has some of the answers: THE STAR-CROSSED STONE: THE SECRET LIFE, MYTHS AND HISTORY OF A FASCINATING FOSSIL.

At the end of the Ice Age, an amazing number of species large and fantastic mammals went suddenly extinct. For a long time most paleontologists believed it was climate change that caused this mass extinction event. But recently, some scientists began to find evidence that perhaps invading humans wiped out all the mammoths, mastodons, giant sloths  by over hunting them. Tonight on Inquiry, we welcome science writer SHARON LEVY who has spent time with scientists on both sides of this hotly contested debate and has also looked into a similar situation in Australia. Is there in fact a “deadly syncopation” in  that every time humans come in contact with large wildlife, the animals rapidly become extinct? Tune in and find out. Levy’s wonderful book is titled ONCE AND FUTURE GIANTS: WHAT ICE AGE EXTINCTIONS TELL US ABOUT THE FATE OF EARTH’S LARGEST ANIMALS.

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