With Thanksgiving approaching, it seems well in theme for researchers to find that pumpkins might’ve gone extinct without humans around 10,000 years ago.
- Researchers found records of pumpkins dating back 30,000 years ago
- They were spread through animal excrement
- Humans started their domestication around 10,000 years ago
- Most of the wild pumpkins are extinct today
Researchers looked into old records and analyzed the genetic sequence in ancient Cucurbita fruits, which is the family of pumpkins, squash, and gourds. They weren’t always the sweet-tasting treats that most of us relish in during this time of the year. Ranging from pies, bread, beer, and newer pumpkin spice lattes, not of them would’ve existed without us.
Before the arrival of humans in America, there were wild versions of Cucurbita fruits scattered around field edges, plains, and other landscapes. The region was heavily populated by giant herbivores, such as mastodons, giant sloths, gomphotheres or many others. They were the first to ensure the survival of pumpkins, squash, or gourds.
According to the study, the hard, tough rinds prevented smaller mammals from breaking through the surface and feasting on the inside. They were also very, very bitter. In fact, according to lead author of the research, Logan Kistler, from the University of Warwick, the fruits held the most naturally bitter compounds in history.
However, that wasn’t a problem for the giant mammals. Through their strong jaws, they easily broke through the surface, and could ignore the off-putting taste. Then, the seeds resisted and their species was further spread through animal excretions. There is evidence of this event occurring around 30,000 years ago.
With humans starting to settle in America around 13,500 to 14,500 years ago, there was a massive extinctions of the giant mammalians. Many of them disappeared due to both hunting and climate conditions at that time. And, with them, the potential for the Curcubita fruits spreading was drastically lessened. Without the giant herbivores, there was nothing to help continue their species.
However, the genetic sequences in the fruits showed that their domestication started around 10,000 years ago. The authors believe that humans started planting the seeds, or eating the tastier species of the Curcubita family. However, the more likely occurrence was that they were used as tools or sliced for containers. It took a long time before they acquired their sweeter taste. And those types are no longer found in the wild.
In fact, most varieties of pumpkins that we buy today no longer have a counterpart outside domestication. Some of the wild species disappeared altogether. Those that persisted, however, were aided by humans. But, indirectly, they might’ve also went extinct because of us.
Image source: wallpaper4me.com