Concept Of Extinction?

At what point in history did people realize that animals (or plants) could go extinct?

Given the modern definition, when people accepted the theory of Evolution.

A theory of evolution is not required to understand extinction, mearly an understanding of reproduction. Georges Cuvier was the first modern naturalist to recognise that species could go extinct in 1796, before Darwin was born. I wouldn’t be surprised if the idea had occurred to someone earlier, but that’s the first documented evidence of the concept.

I don’t disagree. I just pointed that out as one of the distinquishing lines between science and supernatural theories of nature.

At some point, presumably people looked at fossils and said, “hey, there ain’t any of those running around nowadays.”

Well, of course there ain’t any of those running around nowadays, and maybe there never were. The Devil put them thar fossils there to deceive us, remember?

Even the most rabid creationist would acknowledge that species can become extinct.

Only through God’s will. And not extinct as you believe, because God can always recreate them.

According to many creationists that is. This is the argument that Darwin faced. People at that time had difficulty accepting the notion that life could, and did evolve without supernatural intervention, just as some do now. Extinct species then were considered to have all dies in the Deluge, as a result of God’s will, or likely to reappear if man happened to kill them all, because it wasn’t God’s will that they die. A series of scientific theories, Darwin’s evolution among them began the process of informing people of a consistent, predictable world in which extinction could be a final end of species.

Just because there aren’t any of those running around in this neck of the woods doesn’t mean there aren’t any running around anywhere on earth. Especially since the vast majority of recognizable fossils are marine and it was only quite recently that we had any idea what lived on even a fraction of the sea floor. It would be reasonable to assume that the biological assemblages you saw in rocks that obviously came from the seafloor were the same as the ones that currently lived down there.

When was the first genocide? People probably would have been able to easily figure out that it could work on beasts, too.

You’d think the Dodo might have been a clue.

The Romans may have had a clue - Silphium


There’s a bit of a jump though from “No-one’s ever seen one of those running around” and “There’s none of those anywhere in the world”.

It’s only in the last, say, 150 years that we have been able to confidently rule out the existence of certain larger animals. And even then we have been wrong on some rare occasions.

Given that the concept of spontaneous generation didn’t really die until the mid-19th century, I’d venture that the possibility of extinction wasn’t really considered a scientific inevitability until then.

Technically, yes, although that’s dependent on the beliefs of a particular religion. The enlightenment helped popularisise deism and the concept of a non-interventionlist God.

You’d have thought so, but the Dodo wasn’t immediately recognised as having been made extinct. For a while it was thought to have been a mythical animal, until it was re-discovered in the 19th century.


Longshanks (Edward I 1272 - 1307) ordered wolves to be eliminated from his kingdom (even if it took 200 years in England and 200 more in Scotland). On that basis the notion of extinction was encompassed within the laws of the land.

I’ll cede the technical point that wolves in the UK (like brown bears and lynx earlier) constituted a local extinction rather than the extinction of the species.

Would not have Homo sapiens sapiens have realised they had wiped out Homo sapiens neanderthalensis i.e made them extinct when they all disappeared?

I understood modern reseached had concluded that we didn’t just out compete with them but also exerminated them?

How do you know that a band of Neanders aren’t hiding out somewhere in the mountains or wilds of Africa? Homo Floresiensis managed to stay out of sight and was unknown until 2003.

Eh, notquitekarpov might not be correct about Neanderthals if he/she believes Neanderthals are extinct and they’re not, but that’s still the concept of extinction.

Well, and humans witnessed (and most likely caused or hastened) the extinction of much of the North American megafauna, but who knows if the process proceeded in such a way that a particular individual or group of people would have noticed. If populations went from plentiful enough to be a major part of a group’s subsistence to completely gone in a generation or two, it might have been recognized as extinction.