Today, people tend to think of sloths as cute harmless creatures. Their images are all over the internet and videos of them on YouTube garner thousands — and even millions of views. Their prehistoric ancestors, however, were a little different.

Over 10,000 years ago in what is now the New Mexico White Sands National Monument at least one pre-historic hunter followed the trail of a large beast. At some point, the hunter caught up to the animal causing the beast to rear up on its hind legs in an attempt to scare away the hunter or, if that failed, defend itself.

Pre-Historic Slow Food

The encounter described above involved at least one of our pre-historic ancestors and a giant sloth-like creature. Around 11,000 years ago, these creatures towered over humans and had long sharp claws like a wolverine.

A team of scientists, led by geomorphologist Matthew Bennett from Bournemouth University in the UK, has uncovered over ten large fossilized footprints of the sloth, but inlaid within them were the smaller prints of its human predator.

“The human footprints share the same long-axis orientation and occur inside the sloth track outline, indicating that the human trackmaker was walking intentionally within the sloth track,” explained Bennett.

“These steps required the person to adjust her/his normal stride to accommodate the longer stride of the sloth.”

The 20-inch tracks of the sloth were made in a stratum of subsoil consisting of a salty sediment. At various points of the trek it appears the sloth changed direction in order to throw off his pursuer.

The ruse did not work.

A Defensive Stand

Failing to shake off the human predator, the sloth appears to have made a final stand. Standing on two-legs, the sloth made defensive circles in an attempt to ward off the hunter.

“The circular sloth trackways are consistent with defensive behaviours in which sloths reared on their hind-limbs, freeing their forelimbs for defence,” remarked Bennett.

“We termed these structures ‘flailing circles’.”

Long Gone

Science Alert writes that “it’s hard to be 100 percent certain of the motives of prehistoric humans shadowing sloths so many thousands of years ago. This might not have been hunting, perhaps, but a more playful kind of chase or game.”

Whatever the motive, it is theorized that humans hunted the giant sloths out of existence.

What do you think?

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