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Extinction has only separated groups: it has by no means made them; for if every form which has ever lived on this earth were suddenly to reappear, though it would be quite impossible to give definitions by which each group could be distinguished from other groups, as all would blend together by steps as fine as those between the finest existing varieties, nevertheless a natural classification, or at least a natural arrangement, would be possible. Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species
We’ll lose more species of plants and animals between 2000 and 2065 than we’ve lost in the last 65 million years. If we don’t find answers to these problems, we’re gonna be victims of this extinction event that we’re at fault for. Paul Watson
Death of the Dinosaurs: Following the trail of evidence led [Dr Alan] Hildebrand to the edge of the Caribbean. Horizon: Crater of Death, BBC 1997
One of Hildebrand’s suspects was on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. There the state oil company Petrolinus Mexicana had detected a strange circular anomaly in the Earth’s gravity field. Chicxulub, the dead centre of the big round hole, but at the surface there is no sign of a catastrophe. The two hundred-kilometre-wide crater is hidden. ibid.
The rock proved to be precisely sixty-five million years old – the age of the mass extinction. Here at last was the first confirmation that Chicxulub was Ground Zero. ibid.
The world burned for days. It was Nature’s equivalent of the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust – a nuclear winter. ibid.
On Earth the extinction took decades. It was an ordeal of fire, smoke, cold and heat. But it only took six months of darkness to make the dominant marine animals extinct. ibid.
[Luis] Alvares proposed that an asteroid hit had been so devastating that it wiped out most life on Earth. It was a radical theory. Most palaeontologists found the killer asteroid theory difficult to follow. And their initial reaction was predictable. Horizon: New Asteroid Danger, BBC 1999
There had been a mass extinction. Horizon: The Ape That Took Over the World, BBC 2001
At the end of the Permian era 95% of all life died. It was the biggest traverse in the forward march of evolution ever recorded. Yet up to recently relatively nothing was known about this extraordinary event ... 250,000 million years ago hundreds of thousands of square miles of Siberia caught fire ... It started with the Siberian Traps. Horizon: The Day the Earth Nearly Died, BBC 2002
Everybody knows what wiped out the dinosaurs. Sixty-five million years ago it came from out of space. Scientists claim the whole world burned. Then they say dust blocked out the sun. They say the Earth plunged into deep freeze for months or years. They say it drove the dinosaurs to extinction. But maybe they’ve got it all wrong. Horizon, What Really Killed the Dinosaurs? BBC 2004
The northern hills of Mexico are full of evidence of a mass murder sixty-five million years ago. It’s a crime that for over a decade scientists thought they had already solved. But then a geology professor from Princeton found something what was not supposed to be there. What Gerta Keller had found were just tiny balls of rock. But the implications were profound. Gerta Keller’s claim was so shocking that it has sparked one of the bitterest controversies of recent years. The arguments are so bitter because Gerta Keller has reopened the case which most others considered closed. In doing so she has sparked a scientific civil war. And all because she questioned the accepted theory about what wiped out the dinosaurs. Scientists began to investigate a layer of rock formed sixty-five million years ago. It’s seen in mines and rock outcrops all over the world. Below this layer there are lots of dinosaur fossils. Above it there are none. It’s called the K-T boundary. Then in 1972 they discovered a clue in the K-T boundary. A high concentration of an element called Iridium. Such quantities are extremely rare on Earth and usually come from out of space. There was so much iridium, scientists realised the asteroid must have been a staggering ten kilometres in diameter. If the theory was right, the impact would have created a fireball equivalent to ten billion Hiroshima bombs. The shockwave alone would have destroyed life for hundreds of miles around. All they had to prove the theory was to find the evidence. It was Jan Smit who first found traces of the impact. Hidden in the K-T boundary layers he found these tiny balls of rock. Careful analysis revealed the tell-tale signs of their origin. ibid.
It looked as if the world’s forests had spontaneously ignited as the reign of spherules heated the atmosphere ... The impact was also thought to have caused a deluge of vicious acid rain. ibid.
Then there was the final clue from the K-T boundary – a high concentration of fern spores. Ferns flourish when all other plants have been killed off by some environmental devastation. So the predominance of fern spores, known as a Fern Spike, suggested something had wiped out every plant on the planet. So the theory grew up that vast amounts of dust created by the impact must have blocked out the sun. This could have plunged the world into freezing darkness for months or years. Any dinosaurs which had escaped burning either froze or starved to death. ibid.
3,000,000 years before the impact the dinosaurs were already in trouble ... Did they stabilise or carry on dwindling? What is known is that their environment continued to worsen. For about half a million years before the K-T boundary the world suffered one of its most destructive periods of volcanism ... in what is known as the Deadly Traps ... Maybe the dinosaurs had died out gradually and for many different reasons. ibid.
Neanderthals faced a crisis of survival. The forests in which they lived were dying out because of the weather. And in this new open landscape they would have found it increasingly difficult to hunt. Horizon: Neanderthal, BBC 2005
It seems that the very features that made Neanderthal perfectly adapted to the rigours of the Ice Age had also locked him into an evolutionary dead end. ibid.
No complete Neanderthal skeleton has ever been recovered. My dream has been has always been that I can somehow gather together as many good casts as I can and see if it is feasible, possible, to make a complete skeleton. Gary Sawyer, American Museum of Natural History
Neanderthals: a separate species of human. A powerful race of creatures who roamed the forests and mountains of Europe and western Asia for two hundred thousand years. Neanderthals: Sci-Trek, 2009
What killed off the Neanderthals? ibid.
Thirty thousand years ago something went fatally wrong. ibid.
The demise of the Neanderthal may have been more complex than just the dying off of the species. ibid.
A completion of the first draft of the Neanderthal genome using DNA recovered from several fossils – an initial comparison with the genome of humans found no trace of Neanderthal DNA. ibid.
The Neanderthals survived the harsh conditions in Europe for at least 300,000 years. Then, around 40,000 years ago, a different species arrives on the scene: our species, Homo sapiens. They migrated from Africa. Nova: Decoding Neanderthals, Eden 2013
How did Neanderthals communicate these complex ideas? ibid.
This is the result of all their work: the Neanderthal Genome. ibid.
Neanderthals were genetically closer to Europeans and Asians than they were to Africans. ibid.
Neanderthals had dominated Europe for nearly half a million years. But from the moment our ancestors entered the continent their days were numbered ... The last known refuge of the Neanderthals was here in Gibraltar. They lived their final years in these caves. Archaeologists believe the last Neanderthals died out 24,000 years ago. ibid.
We survived. 99% of all the species that ever existed didn’t. They were wiped out in a series of global catastrophes; disasters brought life to the verge of extinction. Four and a half billion years ago the Earth collided with another planet; the impact nearly destroyed our world, but instead it made it a home. This is the story of our planet’s difficult birth. Tony Robinson, Catastrophe I: Birth of the Planet, Channel 4 2008
650 million years ago the Earth froze. It pushed life to the verge of extinction. But if it hadn’t, life today would be little more than microscopic slime. This is the story of snowball Earth. Tony Robinson, Catastrophe II: Snowball Earth