What killed the mighty woolly mammoths? Near the end of the last Ice Age 13,000 years
ago, these enormous beasts disappeared from North America together with
some 35 other groups of mammals, including giant ground sloths,
saber-tooth cats and American lions. Armchair anthropologists can now satisfy their appetite for answers — or at least compelling theories — with Last Extinction, an hour-long Nova special that meticulously advances some possible scenarios for their collective demise.
For four decades, debate has raged over the cause of mammoths’ abrupt demise. Offering up an in-depth investigation of a bold, semi-new hypothesis, Last Extinction suggests that a massive impact from outer space could be the culprit. According to the theory, an incoming comet broke up over North America in a devestating series of explosions, causing widespread forest fires and eradicating plants, animals and prehistoric people. The evidence comes from a mysterious “black mat” layer discovered at more than 50 geological sites across the world. This archeological layer contains exotic materials — including rare microscopic “nanodiamonds” — that many claim to be the signature of an extraterrestrial impact. But some scholars question the evidence and argue that ancient hunters armed with a lethal stone weapon, the Clovis spear point, drove the giant beasts into oblivion. Still others, meanwhile, believe the unstable climate at the end of the Ice Age* was responsible.
The staid skeleton/tusk cover doesn’t do the best job of selling this title, but Last Extinction is actually an interesting and engrossing title, one of those “edu-tainment” that explores scientific fact with plenty of talking-head authority, but also interjects enough young adult-level animation and entertains wild speculation to keep distracted minds hooked on the mystery element at play. Is it definitive in its conclusions? No, not by any means. But it lays all the facts out there, and lets experts in the field — and, by extension, viewers — chew them over, and decide what seems most likely.
Housed in a regular Amaray case, Last Extinction comes presented in widescreen enhanced for 16×9 televisions, with an English language stereo track. Honoring the DVD format circa 1997, scene selection is a touted special feature; the only other bonus tidbits are a few links pointing viewers to Nova’s web site and some printable material for educators. To purchase the DVD via PBS, click here. B (Movie) C (Disc)
* note: not the animated film series