The giant beaver of the last Ice Age, called castoroides, certainly falls under the category of things I didn’t know.
Sometimes interesting tidbits come at surprising times. Things you’d never expect just sort of pop up out of nowhere. Take the story of castoroides for example, the giant beaver of the last Ice Age that would have made even the biggest NBA star look petite. When do you learn about something like them? I happened to come across it while reading a classic historical novel, The Beaver Men by Nebraska author Mari Sandoz.
Casotoroides, or the giant beaver, was just that, a giant beaver. These massive rodents would stretch a tape to over 8 feet in length. Not only that, but archeologists suppose the behemoth also weighed in at well over 200 pounds. As you would expect, they had teeth to match. Imagine the trees a 220 pound beaver, equipped with 6 inch incisors, could fall in minutes. Did they eat trees though? Who knows? Like many details of extinct creatures, it may never be fully known. We do have enough evidence though, to show us how truly impressive they were.
The giant beaver existed before, and during, the last Ice Age. It shared the landscape with numerous other Mega Fauna like the Wooly Mammoth and Saber Tooth Tiger. These creatures were well adapted to the colder conditions where larger bodies would have been ideal to preserve warmth. Giant beaver however, were not in existence for just a flash in the pan. The oldest fossil of castoroides was found in Florida, and was dated to be 1.4 million years old. Sources indicate they lived exclusively on the North American continent and likely filled the same niche as beaver do today. That is, living in standing water and pruning natural vegetation. Some researchers believe the brain of these animals was not as sophisticated as modern beaver, and put complex tasks like dam building, above their intellectual ability.
If all the dates we are given about the antiquities of history prove even remotely true, that means that man and the giant beaver surely would have been acquainted. Imagine the meeting, from the point of view of a nomadic hunter-gatherer clutching a stone tipped atlatl dart. Looking ahead you see a monstrous beast, staring at your through black beady eyes. Though not uncommon to see such beasts, this one has a few intimidating features. The teeth that protrude from the front of the mouth are not unlike those of the great cat you have come to fear. Although the bounty of the animal represented a veritable cornucopia of resources, you would have had to weigh your options when considering an attack. Would you advance with your weapons barred, or harmlessly shrink back into the forrest?
As I learned of the giant Castoroides, I couldn’t help but think of how amazing the world must have been 20,000 years ago. Giant creatures roaming the lands, the concept of a fence still 15,000 years in the future, and nothing but the silence you would have known since birth. True, we shouldn’t paint these days in an over romanticized way. We also can’t deny that, historically at least, their lives are the most human way to live bar none.
Just knowing castoroides even existed gets my imagination rolling. What would it have been like to have been those Stone Age hunters staring them down? The real question may be one we cannot answer; why did these massive rodents suddenly vanish? Was it due to climate changes? Perhaps just a natural process of sorting out species? Research on the subject points to natural climate change as the culprit in the downfall of these species. As the climate warmed, the habitat simply changed too much for these animals to adapt.
My gut tells me that we humans had something to do with the process. With such bounty rolled into one package, they may have been hunted to extinction. This is complete speculation, but it may stand to reason. As a species they lasted for over 1 million years. Humans hit North America about 20,000 years ago and slowly but surely we see the giant beaver begin to vanish. If this would prove true, we surely can’t blame these hunters. Nor can we blame humans for being really good at staying alive. The big question is, will we ever learn to live on this planet in a way that can last? That my friends, will only be answered in time.
If you are into the Stone Age, and mysteries of the past, you might enjoy this piece on why-to start a bow drill fire.