Leave it to Beavers

When you look at this skull of the giant, prehistoric beaver, you see a symbol of one of the most important mammals of America’s past. It represents the power the beaver once had over the land, how valuable it was to European markets, and how its value ultimately led to its depletion.

A sister species to the modern North American Beaver, giant beavers lived approximately 10,000 years ago, and grew to the size of a black bear. Unlike the modern beaver, giant beavers likely grazed on ground fauna and did not use their incisors to cut down trees. One possible cause for its extinction was competition with the modern beaver who had a proportionally larger brain. The modern beaver would later become a valuable commodity.

Beginning in the 16th century and into the mid-1800s, beaver-made felt hats were in popular demand. Native Americans traded pelts with English, Dutch, and French charter companies who supplied consumers’ demands in Europe. Trapping and trade eventually caused depletion of beaver populations across the eastern seaboard and drove European expansion into the Western frontier. Today, the beaver population remains a fraction of what it once was because of European contact.

By Alex Martin