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Dire straits. April 25, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood have been watching Season 1 of “Game of Thrones” on Netflix. The emblem of one of the leading Houses in Season 1, House Stark, is a dire wolf, and the wolves play a major role in the series.

Needless to say, this thrilled our friend Ben, an enthusiastic amateur paleontologist and fossil collector, no end. For, despite the nature of the series, which is a fantasy, dire wolves were real. Like other supersized mammals of their era, they coexisted with humans during the Ice Age and died out when the ice retreated and the continents warmed.

All of which brings to mind two questions that our friend Ben has pondered since receiving that wonderful book, All About Strange Beasts of the Past, in my childhood. The first question is, why were the mammals of the Ice Age so very large? How could mastodons, mammoths, sabertooth tigers, dire wolves, cave bears, aurochs (the giant ancestors of cattle), and similar species support themselves in a bitterly cold climate where any available forage would have grown for a very short period?

After all, mammals survived the age of the dinosaurs because they were about the size of rats and could elude the giant reptiles. I’d have thought they’d be very small during the Ice Age, so they’d need less fuel. My only guess is that it took a massive amount of body fat and fur to survive an Ice Age winter.

This then raises the second question: If mammals had to become supersized to survive the Ice Age, why didn’t humans become giant Yeti/Bigfeet? Human remains from the Ice Age don’t support the Schwarzenegger model of humanity. Instead, we used our brains and hunted in packs like the dire wolves.

But there’s an alternative theory. Many cultures across the ancient world had legends of giants, huge races of manlike beings who roamed the earth before the ascension of humans. Perhaps these “giants” were simply supersized people, mankind’s response to the giant animals of the Ice Age. However, to my knowledge, no remains of “giants” have been found. Until and unless this happens, it’s all just speculation.

What do you think?