Woolly Mammoth Tusks

Woolly Mammoth Tusks

Mahaska County Mammoths

In 2010, an Oskaloosa man and his sons discovered part of an Ice Age mammoth skeleton while hunting for berries on their land. "I got down on my hands and knees on the bank and I could see a marrow line around the edge and I said boys, that's a bone, that's a really big bone," says John. It was an entire mammoth femur, intact. The knee joint of the femur is the size of a soccer ball. But the femur was just the start of what they'd find, and the bones are just the beginning of a look back into what life was like in Southeast Iowa 12,000 years ago.

In the next two years John dug where he originally found the femur and uncovered nearly 20 other bones, including ribs, five articulated cervical vertebrae, and an assortment of terminal phalanges. He enlisted the help of the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History to lead a continued excavation, which lasted for several more years and involved multiple partner institutions and hundreds of volunteers.

“The discovery is a benefit for the Museum of Natural History because the landowner has donated the science associated with the beast. We will be able to test the bones for carbon, nitrogen and oxygen isotopes. This data will give insight into the temperature of the water the animal drank, the kinds of plants it ate, and date the time of death, probably within 50 years,” says Holmes Semken, UI emeritus professor of geoscience. "We would like to know how the mammoth died, but the museum scientists are most interested in how mammoths lived. The Oskaloosa specimens will provide a wealth of information."

The excavation is now being managed by the Mahaska County Conservation Board.

Mammoth Tusks for Sale

UPDATE: In addition to the tusks listed, we have another large matched pair, 7'11" / each tusk weighing 83 lbs.

We are one of North America's premiere dealer of mammoth tusks, offering spectacular specimens from Alaska and Siberia at excellent prices. We acquire our fossil. Read More

UPDATE: In addition to the tusks listed, we have another large matched pair, 7'11" / each tusk weighing 83 lbs.

We are one of North America's premiere dealer of mammoth tusks, offering spectacular specimens from Alaska and Siberia at excellent prices. We acquire our fossil mammoth tusks directly from Siberia and Alaska (with all required documents) and they are professionally restored in our facility. Trade in fossil ivory is legal (and CITES approved) however, due to present restrictions we cannot ship to California, New York state, New Jersey, Illinois, New Hampshire, Nevada, Oregon, or Hawaii. Woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) are the most iconic ice age mammal. Their magnificent curved tusks were huge and impressive - measuring up to 14 feet! These aesthetic prehistoric treasures fit beautifully on our custom wooden stands.

Mammoth Tusks

Remains of long-gone mammoths lie buried in Siberian tundra.

Tusk and Sunset A mammoth’s tusk spikes the Siberian sky on Bolshoy Lyakhovskiy Island. Tusks that are discovered with the mammoth’s skull still attached, like this one, are not considered more valuable, notes photographer Evgenia Arbugaeva. She spent two months on the island to document the hunt for ancient ivory. “They can’t sell the skull,” she says of the tusk hunters. “There is no need to saw off the tusk from the skull. They just pull it out, like pulling out a tooth.” —Margaret G. Zackowitz

Woolly Mammoth tusk returns to Nobles County

WORTHINGTON - A woolly mammoth tusk discovered in a gravel pit north of Adrian in the 1980s has made its way back to Nobles County.

For the past 30-plus years, the tusk has been featured inside the Interpretive Center at Blue Mounds State Park. Due to the deterioration of the building, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources asked if the tusk could be kept at the Nobles County Historical Society Museum in Worthington. It is now considered “on loan” to the museum for the next five years.

The tusk, along with its display case, arrived in the museum about a month ago. Roger Zarn, historical society staff member, hopes the artifact will draw people - particularly children - to the museum.

A display has been created that tells the story of the woolly mammoth, which lived during the Pleistocene epoch approximately 10,000 years ago. It was one of the last surviving mammoth species.

Woolly mammoths were approximately the same size as the African elephant that still exists today. Males could weigh up to seven tons and females up to 4.4 tons, while calves weighed approximately 200 pounds at birth. Their tusks curved inward and were used for fighting, digging or foraging. The longest tusk ever discovered came from a Columbian mammoth and was 16 feet long.

The woolly mammoth tusk in Nobles County, by comparison, measures five feet in length, and ranges in diameter from 16 to 28 inches. Zarn said it weighs between 30 and 35 pounds.

“We theorize the last glacier, when it pushed down here, it may have pushed the tusk down with it, and when (the glacier) started to recede, (the tusk) was deposited in the gravel pit,” Zarn said, noting there were no other bones discovered in the pit.

Blue Mounds State Park Manager Chris Ingebretsen said people haven’t been able to view the tusk - or any of the other artifacts inside the visitors center - since the interpretive center was closed to the public in mid-2015 due to safety issues.

“We wanted to get the exhibits out because we don’t have a timeframe for what’s going to happen with that building,” Ingebretsen said. “We thought they could be displayed somewhere else.”

While the tusk may not have been the most exciting in the visitor center’s collection, Ingebretsen said it’s “certainly a unique piece and really unique that it came out of Nobles County.”

It’s believed to be only the second woolly mammoth tusk to be unearthed in the area - and at 60 inches in length, it’s the longest artifact.

Adrien Hannus, director of Augustana University’s antropology program, said that from time to time he will get a call about the discovery of a mammoth tooth or part of a mammoth tusk from a gravel pit operator in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Nearly two decades ago, he helped the Siouxland Heritage Museum create an exhibit on woolly mammoths, complete with some tusks discovered during the construction of the airport in Sioux Falls many years ago.

“You’re certainly not getting skeletons,” Hannus said. “What you’re getting are bits and pieces that were brought down with the glacial gravels.”

The ivory tusks are more delicate than bones, with growth occurring in rings similar to tree growth.

“It’s more susceptible to breaking up,” Hannus said. “Once they start drying out, the ivory shatters apart.”

Hannus said the tusk found in rural Adrian was brought to his department several years ago in “very bad shape” and decaying from the inside out. His department soaked the tusk in preservative and returned it to Blue Mounds State Park’s interpretive center.

Then Again: Woolly mammoth discovery in 1848 brought awareness of prehistoric past

The discovery in 1848 of the fossilized remains of a woolly mammoth in the town of Mount Holly confirmed what some leading scientists had believed, that the large mammals once roamed the hills and valleys of Vermont. Above, a woolly mammoth is depicted in a display at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, British Columbia. WikiCommons Photo

Editor’s note: Mark Bushnell is a Vermont journalist and historian. He is the author of “Hidden History of Vermont” and “It Happened in Vermont.”

S ometime, perhaps 12,000 years ago, a woolly mammoth on a hillside in Mount Holly breathed its last. The massive creature, which stood as much as 11 feet tall and weighed upwards of six tons, might have died for any number of reasons – old age or disease, perhaps. It might even have found itself on the wrong end of a hunter’s spear. As odd as it is to consider, archeologists believe Paleo-Indians, Vermont’s earliest human inhabitants, might have encountered woolly mammoths.

However the mammoth met its end, its body lay undisturbed for millennia, until it was uncovered during the fall of 1848 by some undoubtedly surprised railroad workers. These were among the first woolly mammoth remains ever found in North American. Their discovery drew the public’s interest, but perhaps not as much as you might expect. In the mid-1800s, Americans were more interested in looking forward than back. People were excited about recent innovations like the advent of train travel, whose high speed was redefining how people thought about time and distance.

For those paying attention, however, the mammoth discovery was redefining how people understood the distant past. At the time, most people had trouble thinking of history stretching back more than about 6,000 years, based on their interpretation of the Bible. But finds like the mammoth bones suggested a far more ancient history.

“Extraordinary Fossils” was the headline the Burlington Free Press chose for a story it ran three weeks after the discovery. (The artifacts had been buried for perhaps a dozen millennia — so what if it took a few weeks for the news to get out?) The paper reported that the fossils were discovered 11 feet below the ground by railroad workers excavating a “muck pit” to clear the way for track construction. The area had apparently been marshy since the mammoth died, perfect conditions for preserving the fossils.

Newspapers reported that the first piece found was a massive fossilized tooth, a molar in fact, weighing more than seven pounds. Several days later, workers unearthed a decaying tusk, measuring four feet long and four inches in diameter.

Newspapers treated the discovery as interesting, but didn’t delve into what it revealed about the past. The New Hampshire Sentinel chalked the find up as just one of the inexplicable things that had been happening in Vermont lately, lumping it together with the story of Phineas Gage, a railroad worker who had recently survived an accident that shot an iron bar shot through his brain, and a report in the Rutland Herald of a man who had survived being struck by a lightning bolt that had badly burned his face and set his clothes alight. “Vermont is getting to be wonderful state,” the Sentinel commented.

If the general public’s interest in the fossils soon waned, scientists’ curiosity did not. Louis Agassiz, one of the foremost scientists of his day, understood the fossils’ significance. Agassiz had just immigrated to the United States from Switzerland to become a professor of zoology and geology at Harvard. After examining the fossils, Agassiz declared at an 1849 scientific convention in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that based on their appearance the tusk and tooth had come from a woolly mammoth, not from a mastodon as some supposed. (Though related, mammoths and mastodons were distinct species. Mammoths were slightly larger and lived on open tundra, as existed in Vermont during its prehistory, whereas mastodons lived in more forested areas. Furthermore, mammoths had curved tusks, unlike the mastodons’ straighter ones, and mammoths had a hump on their upper back and neck area that contained fat that helped them survive harsh winters.)

The presence of a mammoth in Vermont didn’t surprise Agassiz in fact, it supported his theory of what life was like here at the end of the last ice age. While growing up in Switzerland, he had seen the effects caused by ancient glaciers and believed he saw signs that the same thing had happened in New England.

Scientists today believe Agassiz was right. A mile-thick ice sheet that once covered the region created the landforms we see today as it stretched south and later as it receded to the north. Mammals started entering Vermont as the ice sheet began to recede some 15,000 years ago. In addition to now-familiar species like eastern chipmunk, black bear, and white-tailed deer, Vermont was also home to elk, timber wolves, caribou, mastodons and woolly mammoths. The state might also have hosted sabertooth wild cats, giant ground sloth and giant short-faced bear.

Agassiz got more evidence in 1849 to support his theories of how different the region once was. Railroad workers made another perplexing discovery, this time in Charlotte. They found the fossilized skeleton of a 12-foot-long whale, since identified as a beluga. (Large transportation projects have a history of turning up important artifacts. Consequently, today archeologists do the digging before construction work begins.)

The beluga whale skeleton discovered by railroad workers in Charlotte in 1849 is now on display at the Perkins Geology Museum at the University of Vermont in Burlington. Photo by Mark Bushnell

The whale’s discovery helped scientists understand that in place of current-day Lake Champlain, the region once had a much larger, salty water body, now called the Champlain Sea, which covered much of the western part of the state. The fossilized bones of the Charlotte Whale are on display at the Perkins Museum of Geology at the University of Vermont.

The fossilized bones of the Mount Holly Woolly Mammoth took a more circuitous route to their current homes. The fossils that were found consisted of two tusks, the large molar, some bones of the foot, and a rib. The Boston Evening Transcript reported on Dec. 26, 1848, that the “tusks and teeth” could be viewed at Henshaw & Son’s in that city. Samuel Henshaw was treasurer of the Rutland & Burlington Railroad. He apparently used his clout to obtain the fossils, which he displayed at his brokerage in Boston.

Henshaw offered the bones to Agassiz for his museum, but the scientist declined, saying that they would constitute the institution’s entire holdings, since the museum was still just a concept. The artifacts went instead to another researcher, J.C. Warren, who created the Warren Museum in Boston. In 1906, after Warren’s death, financier J.P. Morgan purchased Warren’s collections in order to obtain an intact mastodon skeleton that was part of it. He donated the collections, including the Vermont mammoth fossils, to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

A paleontologist at the museum, Vermont native Walter Granger, decided that the proper place for the Mount Holly artifacts was back at Harvard, since they had originally been offered to Agassiz, and Harvard had finally created a museum. Since 1920, when the transfer was made, Harvard has held the molar, nine bones of the foot and a rib in its collection.

The fate of the two tusks unearthed in Mount Holly, however, remains somewhat murkier. Zadock Thompson, the assistant state geologist at the time of the discovery, visited the site shortly after the fossils were found. He described two tusks being unearthed — one measuring 80 inches along its outer curve. The other he described as “badly broken,” though he didn’t provide any dimensions.

Thompson kept the large tusk for the State Cabinet, a state collection of artifacts, in Montpelier. One of the tusks, presumably the larger one, was later given to the University of Vermont. The university displayed it until several years ago, when the tusk was given, along with a cast of the mammoth tooth, as a long-term loan to the Mount Holly Community Historical Museum. But the tusk on display in Mount Holly measures only about four feet along its outer curve. Thompson noted that the larger tusk suffered shrinkage and cracking after being exposed to the air. Perhaps that explains how it lost nearly half its length since its discovery. What became of the “badly broken” tusk Thompson described is unknown.

In 2014, to add to its long and storied history, the mammoth’s tusk and molar received another distinction. The Vermont Legislature designated them jointly the “state terrestrial fossil.” The Charlotte Whale, which had been the sole official state fossil, now has to share the limelight in Vermont fossildom. It is now the state marine fossil.


Remains of various extinct elephants were known by Europeans for centuries, but were generally interpreted, based on biblical accounts, as the remains of legendary creatures such as behemoths or giants. They were thought to be remains of modern elephants that had been brought to Europe during the Roman Republic, for example the war elephants of Hannibal and Pyrrhus of Epirus, or animals that had wandered north. [2] The first woolly mammoth remains studied by European scientists were examined by Hans Sloane in 1728 and consisted of fossilised teeth and tusks from Siberia. Sloane was the first to recognise that the remains belonged to elephants. [3] Sloane turned to another biblical explanation for the presence of elephants in the Arctic, asserting that they had been buried during the Great Flood, and that Siberia had previously been tropical before a drastic climate change. [4] Others interpreted Sloane's conclusion slightly differently, arguing the flood had carried elephants from the tropics to the Arctic. Sloane's paper was based on travellers' descriptions and a few scattered bones collected in Siberia and Britain. He discussed the question of whether or not the remains were from elephants, but drew no conclusions. [5] In 1738, the German zoologist Johann Philipp Breyne argued that mammoth fossils represented some kind of elephant. He could not explain why a tropical animal would be found in such a cold area as Siberia, and suggested that they might have been transported there by the Great Flood. [6]

In 1796, French biologist Georges Cuvier was the first to identify the woolly mammoth remains not as modern elephants transported to the Arctic, but as an entirely new species. He argued this species had gone extinct and no longer existed, a concept that was not widely accepted at the time. [2] [7] Following Cuvier's identification, German naturalist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach gave the woolly mammoth its scientific name, Elephas primigenius, in 1799, placing it in the same genus as the Asian elephant. This name is Latin for "the first-born elephant". Cuvier coined the name Elephas mammonteus a few months later, but the former name was subsequently used. [8] In 1828, the British naturalist Joshua Brookes used the name Mammuthus borealis for woolly mammoth fossils in his collection that he put up for sale, thereby coining a new genus name. [9]

Where and how the word "mammoth" originated is unclear. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it comes from an old Vogul word mēmoŋt, "earth-horn". [10] It may be a version of mehemot, the Arabic version of the biblical word "behemoth". Another possible origin is Estonian, where maa means "earth", and mutt means "mole". The word was first used in Europe during the early 17th century, when referring to maimanto tusks discovered in Siberia. [11] American president Thomas Jefferson, who had a keen interest in palaeontology, was partially responsible for transforming the word "mammoth" from a noun describing the prehistoric elephant to an adjective describing anything of surprisingly large size. The first recorded use of the word as an adjective was in a description of a wheel of cheese (the "Cheshire Mammoth Cheese") given to Jefferson in 1802. [12]

By the early 20th century, the taxonomy of extinct elephants was complex. In 1942, American palaoentologist Henry Fairfield Osborn's posthumous monograph on the Proboscidea was published, wherein he used various taxon names that had previously been proposed for mammoth species, including replacing Mammuthus with Mammonteus, as he believed the former name to be invalidly published. [13] Mammoth taxonomy was simplified by various researchers from the 1970s onwards, all species were retained in the genus Mammuthus, and many proposed differences between species were instead interpreted as intraspecific variation. [14] Osborn chose two molars (found in Siberia and Osterode) from Blumenbach's collection at Göttingen University as the lectotype specimens for the woolly mammoth, since holotype designation was not practised in Blumenbach's time. Russian palaeontologist Vera Gromova further proposed the former should be considered the lectotype with the latter as paralectotype. Both molars were thought lost by the 1980s, and the more complete "Taimyr mammoth" found in Siberia in 1948 was therefore proposed as the neotype specimen in 1990. Resolutions to historical issues about the validity of the genus name Mammuthus and the type species designation of E. primigenius were also proposed. [15] The paralectotype molar (specimen GZG.V.010.018) has since been located in the Göttingen University collection, identified by comparing it with Osborn's illustration of a cast. [8] [16]

Evolution Edit

The earliest known members of the Proboscidea, the clade which contains modern elephants, existed about 55 million years ago around the Tethys Sea. The closest known relatives of the Proboscidea are the sirenians (dugongs and manatees) and the hyraxes (an order of small, herbivorous mammals). The family Elephantidae existed 6 million years ago in Africa and includes the modern elephants and the mammoths. Among many now extinct clades, the mastodon (Mammut) is only a distant relative of the mammoths, and part of the separate family Mammutidae, which diverged 25 million years before the mammoths evolved. [17] The following cladogram shows the placement of the genus Mammuthus among other proboscideans, based on characteristics of the hyoid bone in the neck: [18]

Within six weeks from 2005-2006, three teams of researchers independently assembled mitochondrial genome profiles of the woolly mammoth from ancient DNA, which allowed them to confirm the close evolutionary relationship between mammoths and Asian elephants (Elephas maximus). [19] [20] A 2015 DNA review confirmed Asian elephants as the closest living relative of the woolly mammoth. [21] African elephants (Loxodonta africana) branched away from this clade around 6 million years ago, close to the time of the similar split between chimpanzees and humans. [22] A 2010 study confirmed these relationships, and suggested the mammoth and Asian elephant lineages diverged 5.8–7.8 million years ago, while African elephants diverged from an earlier common ancestor 6.6–8.8 million years ago. [23] In 2008, much of the woolly mammoth's chromosomal DNA was mapped. The analysis showed that the woolly mammoth and the African elephant are 98.55% to 99.40% identical. [24] The team mapped the woolly mammoth's nuclear genome sequence by extracting DNA from the hair follicles of both a 20,000-year-old mammoth retrieved from permafrost and another that died 60,000 years ago. [25] In 2012, proteins were confidently identified for the first time, collected from a 43,000-year-old woolly mammoth. [26]

Since many remains of each species of mammoth are known from several localities, reconstructing the evolutionary history of the genus through morphological studies is possible. Mammoth species can be identified from the number of enamel ridges (or lamellar plates) on their molars primitive species had few ridges, and the number increased gradually as new species evolved to feed on more abrasive food items. The crowns of the teeth became deeper in height and the skulls became taller to accommodate this. At the same time, the skulls became shorter from front to back to minimise the weight of the head. [1] [27] The short and tall skulls of woolly and Columbian mammoths (Mammuthus columbi) were the culmination of this process. [28]

The first known members of the genus Mammuthus are the African species Mammuthus subplanifrons from the Pliocene, and M. africanavus from the Pleistocene. The former is thought to be the ancestor of later forms. Mammoths entered Europe around 3 million years ago. The earliest European mammoth has been named M. rumanus it spread across Europe and China. Only its molars are known, which show that it had 8–10 enamel ridges. A population evolved 12–14 ridges, splitting off from and replacing the earlier type, becoming the southern mammoth (M. meridionalis) about 2–1.7 million years ago. In turn, this species was replaced by the steppe mammoth (M. trogontherii) with 18–20 ridges, which evolved in eastern Asia around 1 million years ago. [1] Mammoths derived from M. trogontherii evolved molars with 26 ridges 400,000 years ago in Siberia and became the woolly mammoth. [1] Woolly mammoths entered North America about 100,000 years ago by crossing the Bering Strait. [28]

Subspecies and hybridisation Edit

Individuals and populations showing transitional morphologies between each of the mammoth species are known, and primitive and derived species coexisted, as well, until the former disappeared. So the different species and their intermediate forms have been termed "chronospecies". Many taxa intermediate between M. primigenius and other mammoths have been proposed, but their validity is uncertain depending on author, they are either considered primitive forms of an advanced species or advanced forms of a primitive species. [1] Distinguishing and determining these intermediate forms has been called one of the most long-lasting and complicated problems in Quaternary palaeontology. Regional and intermediate species and subspecies such as M. intermedius, M. chosaricus, M. p. primigenius, M. p. jatzkovi, M. p. sibiricus, M. p. fraasi, M. p. leith-adamsi, M. p. hydruntinus, M. p. astensis, M. p. americanus, M. p. compressus and M. p. alaskensis have been proposed. [13] [29] [30]

A 2011 genetic study showed that two examined specimens of the Columbian mammoth were grouped within a subclade of woolly mammoths. This suggests that the two populations interbred and produced fertile offspring. A North American type formerly referred to as M. jeffersonii may be a hybrid between the two species. [31] A 2015 study suggested that the animals in the range where M. columbi and M. primigenius overlapped formed a metapopulation of hybrids with varying morphology. It suggested that Eurasian M. primigenius had a similar relationship with M. trogontherii in areas where their range overlapped. [32]

In 2021, DNA older than a million years was sequenced for the first time, from two mammoth teeth of Early Pleistocene age found in eastern Siberia. One tooth from Adycha (1-1.3 million years old) belonged to a lineage that was ancestral to later woolly mammoths, whereas the other from Krestovka (1.1-1.65 million years old) belonged to new lineage, possibly a distinct species, perhaps descended from steppe mammoths that had become isolated. The study found that half of the ancestry of Columbian mammoths came from the Krestovka lineage, and the other half from woolly mammoths, with the hybridisation happening more than 420,000 years ago, during the Middle Pleistocene. Later woolly and Columbian mammoths also interbred occasionally, and mammoth species perhaps hybridised routinely when brought together by glacial expansion. These findings were the first evidence of hybrid speciation from ancient DNA. The study also found that genetic adaptations to cold environments, such as hair growth and fat deposits, were already present in the steppe mammoth lineage, and was not unique to woolly mammoths. [33] [34]

The appearance of the woolly mammoth is probably the best known of any prehistoric animal due to the many frozen specimens with preserved soft tissue and depictions by contemporary humans in their art. Fully grown males reached shoulder heights between 2.7 and 3.4 m (8.9 and 11.2 ft) and weighed up to 6 tonnes (6.6 short tons). This is almost as large as extant male African elephants, which commonly reach a shoulder height of 3–3.4 m (9.8–11.2 ft), and is less than the size of the earlier mammoth species M. meridionalis and M. trogontherii, and the contemporary M. columbi. The reason for the smaller size is unknown. Female woolly mammoths reached 2.6–2.9 m (8.5–9.5 ft) in shoulder heights and were built more lightly than males, weighing up to 4 tonnes (4.4 short tons). A newborn calf would have weighed about 90 kg (200 lb). These sizes are deduced from comparison with modern elephants of similar size. [35] Few frozen specimens have preserved genitals, so the gender is usually determined through examination of the skeleton. The best indication of sex is the size of the pelvic girdle, since the opening that functions as the birth canal is always wider in females than in males. [36] Though the mammoths on Wrangel Island were smaller than those of the mainland, their size varied, and they were not small enough to be considered "island dwarfs". [37] The last woolly mammoth populations are claimed to have decreased in size and increased their sexual dimorphism, but this was dismissed in a 2012 study. [38]

Woolly mammoths had several adaptations to the cold, most noticeably the layer of fur covering all parts of their bodies. Other adaptations to cold weather include ears that are far smaller than those of modern elephants they were about 38 cm (15 in) long and 18–28 cm (7.1–11.0 in) across, and the ear of the 6- to 12-month-old frozen calf "Dima" was under 13 cm (5.1 in) long. The small ears reduced heat loss and frostbite, and the tail was short for the same reason, only 36 cm (14 in) long in the "Berezovka mammoth". The tail contained 21 vertebrae, whereas the tails of modern elephants contain 28–33. Their skin was no thicker than that of present-day elephants, between 1.25 and 2.5 cm (0.49 and 0.98 in). They had a layer of fat up to 10 cm (3.9 in) thick under the skin, which helped to keep them warm. Woolly mammoths had broad flaps of skin under their tails which covered the anus this is also seen in modern elephants. [39]

Other characteristic features depicted in cave paintings include a large, high, single-domed head and a sloping back with a high shoulder hump this shape resulted from the spinous processes of the back vertebrae decreasing in length from front to rear. These features were not present in juveniles, which had convex backs like Asian elephants. Another feature shown in cave paintings was confirmed by the discovery of a frozen specimen in 1924, an adult nicknamed the "Middle Kolyma mammoth", which was preserved with a complete trunk tip. Unlike the trunk lobes of modern elephants, the upper "finger" at the tip of the trunk had a long pointed lobe and was 10 cm (3.9 in) long, while the lower "thumb" was 5 cm (2.0 in) and was broader. The trunk of "Dima" was 76 cm (2.49 ft) long, whereas the trunk of the adult "Liakhov mammoth" was 2 metres (6.6 ft) long. [39] The well-preserved trunk of a juvenile specimen nicknamed "Yuka" was described in 2015, and it was shown to possess a fleshy expansion a third above the tip. Rather than oval as the rest of the trunk, this part was ellipsoidal in cross section, and double the size in diameter. The feature was shown to be present in two other specimens, of different sexes and ages. [40]

Coat Edit

The coat consisted of an outer layer of long, coarse "guard hair", which was 30 cm (12 in) on the upper part of the body, up to 90 cm (35 in) in length on the flanks and underside, and 0.5 mm (0.020 in) in diameter, and a denser inner layer of shorter, slightly curly under-wool, up to 8 cm (3.1 in) long and 0.05 mm (0.0020 in) in diameter. The hairs on the upper leg were up to 38 cm (15 in) long, and those of the feet were 15 cm (5.9 in) long, reaching the toes. The hairs on the head were relatively short, but longer on the underside and the sides of the trunk. The tail was extended by coarse hairs up to 60 cm (24 in) long, which were thicker than the guard hairs. The woolly mammoth likely moulted seasonally, and the heaviest fur was shed during spring. Since mammoth carcasses were more likely to be preserved, possibly only the winter coat has been preserved in frozen specimens. Modern elephants have much less hair, though juveniles have a more extensive covering of hair than adults. [41] This is thought to be for thermoregulation, helping them lose heat in their hot environments. [42] Comparison between the over-hairs of woolly mammoths and extant elephants show that they did not differ much in overall morphology. [43] Woolly mammoths had numerous sebaceous glands in their skin, which secreted oils into their hair this would have improved the wool's insulation, repelled water, and given the fur a glossy sheen. [44]

Preserved woolly mammoth fur is orange-brown, but this is believed to be an artefact from the bleaching of pigment during burial. The amount of pigmentation varied from hair to hair and within each hair. [39] A 2006 study sequenced the Mc1r gene (which influences hair colour in mammals) from woolly mammoth bones. Two alleles were found: a dominant (fully active) and a recessive (partially active) one. In mammals, recessive Mc1r alleles result in light hair. Mammoths born with at least one copy of the dominant allele would have had dark coats, while those with two copies of the recessive allele would have had light coats. [45] A 2011 study showed that light individuals would have been rare. [46] A 2014 study instead indicated that the colouration of an individual varied from nonpigmented on the overhairs, bicoloured, nonpigmented and mixed red-brown guard hairs, and nonpigmented underhairs, which would give a light overall appearance. [47]

Dentition Edit

Woolly mammoths had very long tusks (modified incisor teeth), which were more curved than those of modern elephants. The largest known male tusk is 4.2 m (14 ft) long and weighs 91 kg (201 lb), but 2.4–2.7 m (7.9–8.9 ft) and 45 kg (99 lb) was a more typical size. Female tusks were smaller and thinner, 1.5–1.8 m (4.9–5.9 ft) and weighing 9 kg (20 lb). For comparison, the record for longest tusks of the African bush elephant is 3.4 m (11 ft). The sheaths of the tusks were parallel and spaced closely. About a quarter of the length was inside the sockets. The tusks grew spirally in opposite directions from the base and continued in a curve until the tips pointed towards each other, sometimes crossing. In this way, most of the weight would have been close to the skull, and less torque would occur than with straight tusks. The tusks were usually asymmetrical and showed considerable variation, with some tusks curving down instead of outwards and some being shorter due to breakage. Calves developed small milk tusks a few centimetres long at six months old, which were replaced by permanent tusks a year later. Tusk growth continued throughout life, but became slower as the animal reached adulthood. The tusks grew by 2.5–15 cm (0.98–5.91 in) each year. Some cave paintings show woolly mammoths with small or no tusks, but whether this reflected reality or was artistic license is unknown. Female Asian elephants have no tusks, but no fossil evidence indicates that any adult woolly mammoths lacked them. [48] [49] [50]

Woolly mammoths had four functional molar teeth at a time, two in the upper jaw and two in the lower. About 23 cm (9.1 in) of the crown was within the jaw, and 2.5 cm (1 in) was above. The crown was continually pushed forwards and up as it wore down, comparable to a conveyor belt. The teeth had up to 26 separated ridges of enamel, which were themselves covered in "prisms" that were directed towards the chewing surface. These were quite wear-resistant and kept together by cementum and dentine. A mammoth had six sets of molars throughout a lifetime, which were replaced five times, though a few specimens with a seventh set are known. The latter condition could extend the lifespan of the individual, unless the tooth consisted of only a few plates. The first molars were about the size of those of a human, 1.3 cm (0.51 in), the third were 15 cm (6 in) 15 cm (5.9 in) long, and the sixth were about 30 cm (1 ft) long and weighed 1.8 kg (4 lb). The molars grew larger and contained more ridges with each replacement. [51] The woolly mammoth is considered to have had the most complex molars of any elephant. [49]

Adult woolly mammoths could effectively defend themselves from predators with their tusks, trunks and size, but juveniles and weakened adults were vulnerable to pack hunters such as wolves, cave hyenas and large felines. The tusks may have been used in intraspecies fighting, such as fights over territory or mates. Display of the large tusks of males could have been used to attract females and to intimidate rivals. Because of their curvature, the tusks were unsuitable for stabbing, but may have been used for hitting, as indicated by injuries to some fossil shoulder blades. The very long hairs on the tail probably compensated for the shortness of the tail, enabling its use as a flyswatter, similar to the tail on modern elephants. As in modern elephants, the sensitive and muscular trunk worked as a limb-like organ with many functions. It was used for manipulating objects, and in social interactions. [52] The well-preserved foot of the adult male "Yukagir mammoth" shows that the soles of the feet contained many cracks that would have helped in gripping surfaces during locomotion. Like modern elephants, woolly mammoths walked on their toes and had large, fleshy pads behind the toes. [39]

Like modern elephants, woolly mammoths were likely very social and lived in matriarchal (female-led) family groups. This is supported by fossil assemblages and cave paintings showing groups. So, most of their other social behaviours probably were similar to those of modern elephants. How many mammoths lived at one location at a time is unknown, as fossil deposits are often accumulations of individuals that died over long periods of time. The numbers likely varied by season and lifecycle events. Modern elephants can form large herds, sometimes consisting of multiple family groups, and these herds can include thousands of animals migrating together. Mammoths may have formed large herds more often, since animals that live in open areas are more likely to do this than those in forested areas. [53] Trackways made by a woolly mammoth herd 11,300–11,000 years ago have been found in the St. Mary Reservoir in Canada, showing that in this case almost equal numbers of adults, subadults, and juveniles were found. The adults had a stride of 2 m (6.6 ft), and the juveniles ran to keep up. [54]

Adaptations to cold Edit

The woolly mammoth was probably the most specialised member of the family Elephantidae. In addition to their fur, they had lipopexia (fat storage) in their neck and withers, for times when food availability was insufficient during winter, and their first three molars grew more quickly than in the calves of modern elephants. The expansion identified on the trunk of "Yuka" and other specimens was suggested to function as a "fur mitten" the trunk tip was not covered in fur, but was used for foraging during winter, and could have been heated by curling it into the expansion. The expansion could be used to melt snow if a shortage of water to drink existed, as melting it directly inside the mouth could disturb the thermal balance of the animal. [40] As in reindeer and musk oxen, the haemoglobin of the woolly mammoth was adapted to the cold, with three mutations to improve oxygen delivery around the body and prevent freezing. This feature may have helped the mammoths to live at high latitudes. [55]

In a 2015 study, high-quality genome sequences from three Asian elephants and two woolly mammoths were compared. About 1.4 million DNA nucleotide differences were found between mammoths and elephants, which affect the sequence of more than 1,600 proteins. Differences were noted in genes for a number of aspects of physiology and biology that would be relevant to Arctic survival, including development of skin and hair, storage and metabolism of adipose tissue, and perceiving temperature. Genes related to both sensing temperature and transmitting that sensation to the brain were altered. One of the heat-sensing genes encodes a protein, TRPV3, found in skin, which affects hair growth. When inserted into human cells, the mammoth's version of the protein was found to be less sensitive to heat than the elephant's. This is consistent with a previous observation that mice lacking active TRPV3 are likely to spend more time in cooler cage locations than wild-type mice, and have wavier hair. Several alterations in circadian clock genes were found, perhaps needed to cope with the extreme polar variation in length of daylight. Similar mutations are known in other Arctic mammals, such as reindeer. [56] [57] A 2019 study of the woolly mammoth mitogenome suggest that these had metabolic adaptations related to extreme environments. [58]

Diet Edit

Food at various stages of digestion has been found in the intestines of several woolly mammoths, giving a good picture of their diet. Woolly mammoths sustained themselves on plant food, mainly grasses and sedges, which were supplemented with herbaceous plants, flowering plants, shrubs, mosses, and tree matter. The composition and exact varieties differed from location to location. Woolly mammoths needed a varied diet to support their growth, like modern elephants. An adult of 6 tons would need to eat 180 kg (397 lb) daily, and may have foraged as long as 20 hours every day. The two-fingered tip of the trunk was probably adapted for picking up the short grasses of the last ice age (Quaternary glaciation, 2.58 million years ago to present) by wrapping around them, whereas modern elephants curl their trunks around the longer grass of their tropical environments. And the trunk could be used for pulling off large grass tufts, delicately picking buds and flowers, and tearing off leaves and branches where trees and shrubs were present. The "Yukagir mammoth" had ingested plant matter that contained spores of dung fungus. [59] Isotope analysis shows that woolly mammoths fed mainly on C3 plants, unlike horses and rhinos. [60]

Scientists identified milk in the stomach and faecal matter in the intestines of the mammoth calf "Lyuba". [61] The faecal matter may have been eaten by "Lyuba" to promote development of the intestinal microbes necessary for digestion of vegetation, as is the case in modern elephants. [62] An isotope analysis of woolly mammoths from Yukon showed that the young nursed for at least 3 years, and were weaned and gradually changed to a diet of plants when they were 2–3 years old. This is later than in modern elephants and may be due to a higher risk of predator attack or difficulty in obtaining food during the long periods of winter darkness at high latitudes. [63]

The molars were adapted to their diet of coarse tundra grasses, with more enamel plates and a higher crown than their earlier, southern relatives. The woolly mammoth chewed its food by using its powerful jaw muscles to move the mandible forwards and close the mouth, then backwards while opening the sharp enamel ridges thereby cut across each other, grinding the food. The ridges were wear-resistant to enable the animal to chew large quantities of food, which often contained grit. Woolly mammoths may have used their tusks as shovels to clear snow from the ground and reach the vegetation buried below, and to break ice to drink. This is indicated on many preserved tusks by flat, polished sections up to 30 centimetres (12 in) long, as well as scratches, on the part of the surface that would have reached the ground (especially at their outer curvature). The tusks were used for obtaining food in other ways, such as digging up plants and stripping off bark. [64] [65]

Life history Edit

The lifespan of mammals is related to their size, and since modern elephants can reach the age of 60 years, the same is thought to be true for woolly mammoths, which were of a similar size. The age of a mammoth can be roughly determined by counting the growth rings of its tusks when viewed in cross section, but this does not account for its early years, as these are represented by the tips of the tusks, which are usually worn away. In the remaining part of the tusk, each major line represents a year, and weekly and daily ones can be found in between. Dark bands correspond to summers, so determining the season in which a mammoth died is possible. The growth of the tusks slowed when foraging became harder, for example during winter, during disease, or when a male was banished from the herd (male elephants live with their herds until about the age of 10). Mammoth tusks dating to the harshest period of the last glaciation 25–20,000 years ago show slower growth rates. [66] [67]

Woolly mammoths continued growing past adulthood, like other elephants. Unfused limb bones show that males grew until they reached the age of 40, and females grew until they were 25. The frozen calf "Dima" was 90 cm (35 in) tall when it died at the age of 6–12 months. At this age, the second set of molars would be in the process of erupting, and the first set would be worn out at 18 months of age. The third set of molars lasted for 10 years, and this process was repeated until the final, sixth set emerged when the animal was 30 years old. When the last set of molars was worn out, the animal would be unable to chew and feed, and it would die of starvation. A study of North American mammoths found that they often died during winter or spring, the hardest times for northern animals to survive. [68]

Examination of preserved calves shows that they were all born during spring and summer, and since modern elephants have gestation periods of 21–22 months, the mating season probably was from summer to autumn. [69] δ15N isotopic analysis of the teeth of "Lyuba" has demonstrated their prenatal development, and indicates its gestation period was similar to that of a modern elephant, and that it was born in spring. [70]

The best-preserved head of a frozen adult specimen, that of a male nicknamed the "Yukagir mammoth", shows that woolly mammoths had temporal glands between the ear and the eye. [71] This feature indicates that, like bull elephants, male woolly mammoths entered "musth", a period of heightened aggressiveness. The glands are used especially by males to produce an oily substance with a strong smell called temporin. Their fur may have helped in spreading the scent further. [72]

Palaeopathology Edit

Evidence of several different bone diseases has been found in woolly mammoths. The most common of these was osteoarthritis, found in 2% of specimens. One specimen from Switzerland had several fused vertebrae as a result of this condition. The "Yukagir mammoth" had suffered from spondylitis in two vertebrae, and osteomyelitis is known from some specimens. Several specimens have healed bone fractures, showing that the animals had survived these injuries. [73] An abnormal number of cervical vertebrae has been found in 33% of specimens from the North Sea region, probably due to inbreeding in a declining population. [74] Parasitic flies and protozoa were identified in the gut of the calf "Dima". [75]

Distortion in the molars is the most common health problem found in woolly mammoth fossils. Sometimes, the replacement was disrupted, and the molars were pushed into abnormal positions, but some animals are known to have survived this. Teeth from Britain showed that 2% of specimens had periodontal disease, with half of these containing caries. The teeth sometimes had cancerous growths. [76]

The habitat of the woolly mammoth is known as "mammoth steppe" or "tundra steppe". This environment stretched across northern Asia, many parts of Europe, and the northern part of North America during the last ice age. It was similar to the grassy steppes of modern Russia, but the flora was more diverse, abundant, and grew faster. Grasses, sedges, shrubs, and herbaceous plants were present, and scattered trees were mainly found in southern regions. This habitat was not dominated by ice and snow, as is popularly believed, since these regions are thought to have been high-pressure areas at the time. The habitat of the woolly mammoth supported other grazing herbivores such as the woolly rhinoceros, wild horses, and bison. [77] The Altai-Sayan assemblages are the modern biomes most similar to the "mammoth steppe". [78] A 2014 study concluded that forbs (a group of herbaceous plants) were more important in the steppe-tundra than previously acknowledged, and that it was a primary food source for the ice-age megafauna. [79]

The southernmost woolly mammoth specimen known is from the Shandong province of China, and is 33,000 years old. [80] The southernmost European remains are from the Depression of Granada in Spain and are of roughly the same age. [81] [82] DNA studies have helped determine the phylogeography of the woolly mammoth. A 2008 DNA study showed two distinct groups of woolly mammoths: one that became extinct 45,000 years ago and another one that became extinct 12,000 years ago. The two groups are speculated to be divergent enough to be characterised as subspecies. The group that became extinct earlier stayed in the middle of the high Arctic, while the group with the later extinction had a much wider range. [83] Recent stable isotope studies of Siberian and New World mammoths have shown there were differences in climatic conditions on either side of the Bering land bridge, with Siberia being more uniformly cold and dry throughout the Late Pleistocene. [84] During the Younger Dryas age, woolly mammoths briefly expanded into north-east Europe, whereafter the mainland populations became extinct. [85]

A 2008 genetic study showed that some of the woolly mammoths that entered North America through the Bering land bridge from Asia migrated back about 300,000 years ago and had replaced the previous Asian population by about 40,000 years ago, not long before the entire species became extinct. [86] Fossils of woolly mammoths and Columbian mammoths have been found together in a few localities of North America, including the Hot Springs sinkhole of South Dakota where their regions overlapped. It is unknown whether the two species were sympatric and lived there simultaneously, or if the woolly mammoths may have entered these southern areas during times when Columbian mammoth populations were absent there. [77]

Modern humans coexisted with woolly mammoths during the Upper Palaeolithic period when the humans entered Europe from Africa between 30,000 and 40,000 years ago. Before this, Neanderthals had coexisted with mammoths during the Middle Palaeolithic, and already used mammoth bones for tool-making and building materials. Woolly mammoths were very important to ice-age humans, and human survival may have depended on the mammoth in some areas. Evidence for such coexistence was not recognised until the 19th century. William Buckland published his discovery of the Red Lady of Paviland skeleton in 1823, which was found in a cave alongside woolly mammoth bones, but he mistakenly denied that these were contemporaries. In 1864, Édouard Lartet found an engraving of a woolly mammoth on a piece of mammoth ivory in the Abri de la Madeleine cave in Dordogne, France. The engraving was the first widely accepted evidence for the coexistence of humans with prehistoric extinct animals and is the first contemporary depiction of such a creature known to modern science. [87]

The woolly mammoth is the third-most depicted animal in ice-age art, after horses and bison, and these images were produced between 35,000 and 11,500 years ago. Today, more than 500 depictions of woolly mammoths are known, in media ranging from cave paintings and engravings on the walls of 46 caves in Russia, France, and Spain to engravings and sculptures (termed "portable art") made from ivory, antler, stone and bone. Cave paintings of woolly mammoths exist in several styles and sizes. The French Rouffignac Cave has the most depictions, 159, and some of the drawings are more than 2 metres (6.6 ft) in length. Other notable caves with mammoth depictions are the Chauvet Cave, Les Combarelles Cave, and Font-de-Gaume. [88] A depiction in the Cave of El Castillo may instead show Palaeoloxodon, the "straight-tusked elephant". [89]

"Portable art" can be more accurately dated than cave art since it is found in the same deposits as tools and other ice-age artefacts. The largest collection of portable mammoth art, consisting of 62 depictions on 47 plaques, was found in the 1960s at an excavated open-air camp near Gönnersdorf in Germany. A correlation between the number of mammoths depicted and the species that were most often hunted does not seem to exist, since reindeer bones are the most frequently found animal remains at the site. Two spear throwers shaped as woolly mammoths have been found in France. [88] Some portable mammoth depictions may not have been produced where they were discovered, but could have moved around by ancient trading. [89]

Exploitation Edit

Woolly mammoth bones were used as construction material for dwellings by both Neanderthals and modern humans during the ice age. [90] More than 70 such dwellings are known, mainly from the East European Plain. The bases of the huts were circular, and ranged from 8 to 24 square metres (86 to 258 sq ft). The arrangement of dwellings varied, and ranged from 1 to 20 m (3.3 to 65.6 ft) apart, depending on location. Large bones were used as foundations for the huts, tusks for the entrances, and the roofs were probably skins held in place by bones or tusks. Some huts had floors that extended 40 cm (16 in) below ground. Some huts included fireplaces, which used bones as fuel, probably because wood was scarce. Some of the bones used for materials may have come from mammoths killed by humans, but the state of the bones, and the fact that bones used to build a single dwelling varied by several thousands of years in age, suggests that they were collected remains of long-dead animals. Woolly mammoth bones were made into various tools, furniture, and musical instruments. Large bones, such as shoulder blades, were used to cover dead human bodies during burial. [91]

Woolly mammoth ivory was used to create art objects. Several Venus figurines, including the Venus of Brassempouy and the Venus of Lespugue, were made from this material. Weapons made from ivory, such as daggers, spears, and a boomerang, are known. A 2019 study found that woolly mammoth ivory was the most suitable bony material for the production of big game projectile points during the Late Plesistocene. To be able to process the ivory, the large tusks had to be chopped, chiseled, and split into smaller, more manageable pieces. Some ivory artefacts show that tusks had been straightened, and how this was achieved is unknown. [92] [65]

Several woolly mammoth specimens show evidence of being butchered by humans, which is indicated by breaks, cut marks, and associated stone tools. How much prehistoric humans relied on woolly mammoth meat is unknown, since many other large herbivores were available. Many mammoth carcasses may have been scavenged by humans rather than hunted. Some cave paintings show woolly mammoths in structures interpreted as pitfall traps. Few specimens show direct, unambiguous evidence of having been hunted by humans. A Siberian specimen with a spearhead embedded in its shoulder blade shows that a spear had been thrown at it with great force. [93] A specimen from the Mousterian age of Italy shows evidence of spear hunting by Neanderthals. [94] The juvenile specimen nicknamed "Yuka" is the first frozen mammoth with evidence of human interaction. It shows evidence of having been killed by a large predator, and of having been scavenged by humans shortly after. Some of its bones had been removed, and were found nearby. [95] A site near the Yana River in Siberia has revealed several specimens with evidence of human hunting, but the finds were interpreted to show that the animals were not hunted intensively, but perhaps mainly when ivory was needed. [96] Two woolly mammoths from Wisconsin, the "Schaefer" and "Hebior mammoths", show evidence of having been butchered by Palaeoamericans. [97] [98]

Most woolly mammoth populations disappeared during the late Pleistocene and early Holocene, alongside most of the Pleistocene megafauna (including the Columbian mammoth). This extinction formed part of the Quaternary extinction event, which began 40,000 years ago and peaked between 14,000 and 11,500 years ago. Scientists are divided over whether hunting or climate change, which led to the shrinkage of its habitat, was the main factor that contributed to the extinction of the woolly mammoth, or whether it was due to a combination of the two. Whatever the cause, large mammals are generally more vulnerable than smaller ones due to their smaller population size and low reproduction rates. Different woolly mammoth populations did not die out simultaneously across their range, but gradually became extinct over time. Most populations disappeared between 14,000 and 10,000 years ago. The last mainland population existed in the Kyttyk Peninsula of Siberia 9,650 years ago. [99] [100] A small population of woolly mammoths survived on St. Paul Island, Alaska, well into the Holocene [101] [102] [103] with the most recently published date of extinction being 5,600 years B.P. [104] The last known population remained on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean until 4,000 years ago, well into the start of human civilization and concurrent with the construction of the Great Pyramid of ancient Egypt. [105] [106] [107] [108]

DNA sequencing of remains of two mammoths, one from Siberia 44,800 years BP and one from Wrangel Island 4,300 years BP, indicates two major population crashes: one around 280,000 years ago from which the population recovered, and a second about 12,000 years ago, near the ice age's end, from which it did not. [109] The Wrangel Island mammoths were isolated for 5000 years by rising post-ice-age sea level, and resultant inbreeding in their small population of about 300 to 1000 individuals [110] led to a 20% [111] to 30% [108] loss of heterozygosity, and a 65% loss in mitochondrial DNA diversity. [108] The population seems to have subsequently been stable, without suffering further significant loss of genetic diversity. [108] [112] Genetic evidence thus implies the extinction of this final population was sudden, rather than the culmination of a gradual decline. [108]

Before their extinction, the Wrangel Island mammoths had accumulated numerous genetic defects due to their small population in particular, a number of genes for olfactory receptors and urinary proteins became nonfunctional, possibly because they had lost their selective value on the island environment. [113] It is not clear whether these genetic changes contributed to their extinction. [114] It has been proposed that these changes are consistent with the concept of genomic meltdown [113] however, the sudden disappearance of an apparently stable population may be more consistent with a catastrophic event, possibly related to climate (such as icing of the snowpack) or a human hunting expedition. [115] The disappearance coincides roughly in time with the first evidence for humans on the island. [116] The woolly mammoths of eastern Beringia (modern Alaska and Yukon) had similarly died out about 13,300 years ago, soon (roughly 1000 years) after the first appearance of humans in the area, which parallels the fate of all the other late Pleistocene proboscids (mammoths, gomphotheres, and mastodons), as well as most of the rest of the megafauna, of the Americas. [117] In contrast, the St. Paul Island mammoth population apparently died out before human arrival because of habitat shrinkage resulting from the post-ice age sea-level rise, [117] perhaps in large measure as a result of a consequent reduction in the freshwater supply. [104]

Changes in climate shrank suitable mammoth habitat from 7,700,000 km 2 (3,000,000 sq mi) 42,000 years ago to 800,000 km 2 (310,000 sq mi) 6,000 years ago. [118] [119] Woolly mammoths survived an even greater loss of habitat at the end of the Saale glaciation 125,000 years ago, and humans likely hunted the remaining populations to extinction at the end of the last glacial period. [120] [121] Studies of an 11,300–11,000-year-old trackway in south-western Canada showed that M. primigenius was in decline while coexisting with humans, since far fewer tracks of juveniles were identified than would be expected in a normal herd. [54]

The decline of the woolly mammoth could have increased temperatures by up to 0.2 °C (0.36 °F) at high latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere. Mammoths frequently ate birch trees, creating a grassland habitat. With the disappearance of mammoths, birch forests, which absorb more sunlight than grasslands, expanded, leading to regional warming. [122]

Woolly mammoth fossils have been found in many different types of deposits, including former rivers and lakes, and in "Doggerland" in the North Sea, which was dry at times during the ice age. Such fossils are usually fragmentary and contain no soft tissue. Accumulations of modern elephant remains have been termed "elephants' graveyards", as these sites were erroneously thought to be where old elephants went to die. Similar accumulations of woolly mammoth bones have been found these are thought to be the result of individuals dying near or in the rivers over thousands of years, and their bones eventually being brought together by the streams. Some accumulations are thought to be the remains of herds that died together at the same time, perhaps due to flooding. Natural traps, such as kettle holes, sink holes, and mud, have trapped mammoths in separate events over time. [123]

Apart from frozen remains, the only soft tissue known is from a specimen that was preserved in a petroleum seep in Starunia, Poland. Frozen remains of woolly mammoths have been found in the northern parts of Siberia and Alaska, with far fewer finds in the latter. Such remains are mostly found above the Arctic Circle, in permafrost. Soft tissue apparently was less likely to be preserved between 30,000 and 15,000 years ago, perhaps because the climate was milder during that period. Most specimens have partially degraded before discovery, due to exposure or to being scavenged. This "natural mummification" required the animal to have been buried rapidly in liquid or semisolids such as silt, mud, and icy water, which then froze. [124]

The presence of undigested food in the stomach and seed pods still in the mouth of many of the specimens suggests neither starvation nor exposure is likely. The maturity of this ingested vegetation places the time of death in autumn rather than in spring, when flowers would be expected. [125] The animals may have fallen through ice into small ponds or potholes, entombing them. Many are certainly known to have been killed in rivers, perhaps through being swept away by floods. In one location, by the Byoryolyokh River in Yakutia in Siberia, more than 8,000 bones from at least 140 mammoths have been found in a single spot, apparently having been swept there by the current. [126]

Frozen specimens Edit

Between 1692 and 1806, only four descriptions of frozen mammoths were published in Europe. None of the remains of those five were preserved, and no complete skeletons were recovered during that time. [127] While frozen woolly mammoth carcasses had been excavated by Europeans as early as 1728, the first fully documented specimen was discovered near the delta of the Lena River in 1799 by Ossip Schumachov, a Siberian hunter. [128] While in Yakutsk in 1806, Michael Friedrich Adams heard about the frozen mammoth. Adams recovered the entire skeleton, apart from the tusks, which Shumachov had already sold, and one foreleg, most of the skin, and nearly 18 kg (40 lb) of hair. During his return voyage, he purchased a pair of tusks that he believed were the ones that Shumachov had sold. Adams brought all to the Zoological Museum of the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the task of mounting the skeleton was given to Wilhelm Gottlieb Tilesius. [5] [129] This was one of the first attempts at reconstructing the skeleton of an extinct animal. Most of the reconstruction is correct, but Tilesius placed each tusk in the opposite socket, so that they curved outward instead of inward. The error was not corrected until 1899, and the correct placement of mammoth tusks was still a matter of debate into the 20th century. [130] [131]

The 1901 excavation of the "Berezovka mammoth" is the best documented of the early finds. It was discovered at the Siberian Berezovka River (after a dog had noticed its smell), and the Russian authorities financed its excavation. The entire expedition took 10 months, and the specimen had to be cut to pieces before it could be transported to St. Petersburg. Most of the skin on the head as well as the trunk had been scavenged by predators, and most of the internal organs had rotted away. It was identified as a 35- to 40-year-old male, which had died 35,000 years ago. The animal still had grass between its teeth and on the tongue, showing that it had died suddenly. One of its shoulder blades was broken, which may have happened when it fell into a crevasse. It may have died of asphyxiation, as indicated by its erect penis. One third of a replica of the mammoth in the Museum of Zoology of St. Petersburg is covered in skin and hair of the "Berezovka mammoth". [124] [125]

By 1929, the remains of 34 mammoths with frozen soft tissues (skin, flesh, or organs) had been documented. Only four of them were relatively complete. Since then, about that many more have been found. In most cases, the flesh showed signs of decay before its freezing and later desiccation. [132] Since 1860, Russian authorities have offered rewards of up to ₽1000 for finds of frozen woolly mammoth carcasses. Often, such finds were kept secret due to superstition. Several carcasses have been lost because they were not reported, and one was fed to dogs. In more recent years, scientific expeditions have been devoted to finding carcasses instead of relying solely on chance encounters. The most famous frozen specimen from Alaska is a calf nicknamed "Effie", which was found in 1948. It consists of the head, trunk, and a fore leg, and is about 25,000 years old. [123]

In 1977, the well-preserved carcass of a seven- to eight-month-old woolly mammoth calf named "Dima" was discovered. This carcass was recovered near a tributary of the Kolyma River in northeastern Siberia. This specimen weighed about 100 kg (220 lb) at death and was 104 cm (41 in) high and 115 cm (45 in) long. Radiocarbon dating determined that "Dima" died about 40,000 years ago. Its internal organs are similar to those of modern elephants, but its ears are only one-tenth the size of those of an African elephant of similar age. A less complete juvenile, nicknamed "Mascha", was found on the Yamal Peninsula in 1988. It was 3–4 months old, and a laceration on its right foot may have been the cause of death. It is the westernmost frozen mammoth found. [133]

In 1997, a piece of mammoth tusk was discovered protruding from the tundra of the Taymyr Peninsula in Siberia, Russia. In 1999, this 20,380-year-old carcass and 25 tons of surrounding sediment were transported by an Mi-26 heavy lift helicopter to an ice cave in Khatanga. The specimen was nicknamed the "Jarkov mammoth". In October 2000, the careful defrosting operations in this cave began with the use of hair dryers to keep the hair and other soft tissues intact. [134] [135]

In 2002, a well-preserved carcass was discovered near the Maxunuokha River in northern Yakutia, which was recovered during three excavations. This adult male specimen was called the "Yukagir mammoth", and is estimated to have lived around 18,560 years ago, and to have been 282.9 cm (9.2 ft) tall at the shoulder, and weighed between 4 and 5 tonnes. It is one of the best-preserved mammoths ever found due to the almost complete head, covered in skin, but without the trunk. Some postcranial remains were found, some with soft tissue. [71]

In 2007, the carcass of a female calf nicknamed "Lyuba" was discovered near the Yuribey River, where it had been buried for 41,800 years. [62] [136] By cutting a section through a molar and analysing its growth lines, they found that the animal had died at the age of one month. [70] The mummified calf weighed 50 kg (110 lb), was 85 cm (33 in) high and 130 cm (51 in) in length. [137] [138] At the time of discovery, its eyes and trunk were intact and some fur remained on its body. Its organs and skin are very well preserved. [139] "Lyuba" is believed to have been suffocated by mud in a river that its herd was crossing. [62] [140] After death, its body may have been colonised by bacteria that produce lactic acid, which "pickled" it, preserving the mammoth in a nearly pristine state. [62]

In 2012, a juvenile was found in Siberia, which had man-made cut marks. Scientists estimated its age at death to be 2.5 years, and nicknamed it "Yuka". Its skull and pelvis had been removed prior to discovery, but were found nearby. [95] [141] After being discovered, the skin of "Yuka" was prepared to produce a taxidermy mount. [40] In 2019, a group of researchers managed to obtain signs of biological activity after transferring nuclei of "Yuka" into mouse oocytes. [142]

In 2013, a well-preserved carcass was found on Maly Lyakhovsky Island, one of the islands in the New Siberian Islands archipelago, a female between 50 and 60 years old at the time of death. The carcass contained well-preserved muscular tissue. When it was extracted from the ice, liquid blood spilled from the abdominal cavity. The finders interpreted this as indicating woolly mammoth blood possessed antifreezing properties. [143]

Revival of the species Edit

The existence of preserved soft tissue remains and DNA of woolly mammoths has led to the idea that the species could be recreated by scientific means. Several methods have been proposed to achieve this. Cloning would involve removal of the DNA-containing nucleus of the egg cell of a female elephant, and replacement with a nucleus from woolly mammoth tissue. The cell would then be stimulated into dividing, and inserted back into a female elephant. The resulting calf would have the genes of the woolly mammoth, although its fetal environment would be different. Most intact mammoths have had little usable DNA because of their conditions of preservation. There is not enough to guide the production of an embryo. [144] [145]

A second method involves artificially inseminating an elephant egg cell with sperm cells from a frozen woolly mammoth carcass. The resulting offspring would be an elephant–mammoth hybrid, and the process would have to be repeated so more hybrids could be used in breeding. After several generations of cross-breeding these hybrids, an almost pure woolly mammoth would be produced. In one case, an Asian elephant and an African elephant produced a live calf named Motty, but it died of defects at less than two weeks old. [146] The fact that sperm cells of modern mammals are viable for 15 years at most after deep-freezing makes this method unfeasible. [145]

Several projects are working on gradually replacing the genes in elephant cells with mammoth genes. [147] [148] By 2015 and using the new CRISPR DNA editing technique, one team had some woolly mammoth genes edited into the genome of an Asian elephant focusing on cold-resistance initially, [149] the target genes are for the external ear size, subcutaneous fat, hemoglobin, and hair attributes. [150] [151] If any method is ever successful, a suggestion has been made to introduce the hybrids to a wildlife reserve in Siberia called the Pleistocene Park. [152]

Some researchers question the ethics of such recreation attempts. In addition to the technical problems, not much habitat is left that would be suitable for elephant-mammoth hybrids. Because the species was social and gregarious, creating a few specimens would not be ideal. The time and resources required would be enormous, and the scientific benefits would be unclear, suggesting these resources should instead be used to preserve extant elephant species which are endangered. [145] [153] [154] The ethics of using elephants as surrogate mothers in hybridisation attempts has been questioned, as most embryos would not survive, and knowing the exact needs of a hybrid elephant–mammoth calf would be impossible. [155]

The woolly mammoth has remained culturally significant long after its extinction. Indigenous peoples of Siberia had long found what are now known to be woolly mammoth remains, collecting their tusks for the ivory trade. Native Siberians believed woolly mammoth remains to be those of giant mole-like animals that lived underground and died when burrowing to the surface. [156] [157] Woolly mammoth tusks had been articles of trade in Asia long before Europeans became acquainted with them. Güyük, the 13th-century Khan of the Mongols, is reputed to have sat on a throne made from mammoth ivory. [127] Inspired by the Siberian natives' concept of the mammoth as an underground creature, it was recorded in the Chinese pharmaceutical encyclopedia, Ben Cao Gangmu, as yin shu, "the hidden rodent". [158]

The indigenous peoples of North America used woolly mammoth ivory and bone for tools and art. [159] As in Siberia, North American natives had "myths of observation" explaining the remains of woolly mammoths and other elephants the Bering Strait Inupiat believed the bones came from burrowing creatures, while other peoples associated them with primordial giants or "great beasts". [160] [161] [162] Observers have interpreted legends from several Native American peoples as containing folk memory of extinct elephants, though other scholars are sceptical that folk memory could survive such a long time. [160] [162] [163]

Siberian mammoth ivory is reported to have been exported to Russia and Europe in the 10th century. The first Siberian ivory to reach western Europe was brought to London in 1611. When Russia occupied Siberia, the ivory trade grew and it became a widely exported commodity, with huge amounts being excavated. From the 19th century and onwards, woolly mammoth ivory became a highly prized commodity, used as raw material for many products. Today, it is still in great demand as a replacement for the now-banned export of elephant ivory, and has been referred to as "white gold". Local dealers estimate that 10 million mammoths are still frozen in Siberia, and conservationists have suggested that this could help save the living species of elephants from extinction. Elephants are hunted by poachers for their ivory, but if this could instead be supplied by the already extinct mammoths, the demand could instead be met by these. Trade in elephant ivory has been forbidden in most places following the 1989 Lausanne Conference, but dealers have been known to label it as mammoth ivory to get it through customs. Mammoth ivory looks similar to elephant ivory, but the former is browner and the Schreger lines are coarser in texture. [164] In the 21st century, global warming has made access to Siberian tusks easier, since the permafrost thaws more quickly, exposing the mammoths embedded within it. [165]

Stories abound about frozen woolly mammoth meat that was consumed once defrosted, especially that of the "Berezovka mammoth", but most of these are considered dubious. The carcasses were in most cases decayed, and the stench so unbearable that only wild scavengers and the dogs accompanying the finders showed any interest in the flesh. Such meat apparently was once recommended against illness in China, and Siberian natives have occasionally cooked the meat of frozen carcasses they discovered. [166] According to one of the more famous stories, members of The Explorers Club dined on meat of a frozen mammoth from Alaska in 1951. In 2016, a group of researchers genetically examined a sample of the meal, and found it to belong to a green sea turtle (it had also been claimed to belong to Megatherium). The researchers concluded that the dinner had been a publicity stunt. [167] In 2011, the Chinese palaeontologist Lida Xing livestreamed while eating meat from a Siberian mammoth leg (thoroughly cooked and flavoured with salt), and told his audience it tasted bad and like soil. This triggered controversy and gained mixed reactions, but Xing stated he did it to promote science. [168]

Alleged survival Edit

There have been occasional claims that the woolly mammoth is not extinct and that small, isolated herds might survive in the vast and sparsely inhabited tundra of the Northern Hemisphere. In the 19th century, several reports of "large shaggy beasts" were passed on to the Russian authorities by Siberian tribesmen, but no scientific proof ever surfaced. A French chargé d'affaires working in Vladivostok, M. Gallon, said in 1946 that in 1920, he had met a Russian fur-trapper who claimed to have seen living giant, furry "elephants" deep into the taiga. [169] Due to the large area of Siberia, that woolly mammoths survived into more recent times cannot be completely ruled out, but all evidence indicates that they became extinct thousands of years ago. These natives likely had gained their knowledge of woolly mammoths from carcasses they encountered and that this is the source for their legends of the animal. [170]

In the late 19th century, rumours existed about surviving mammoths in Alaska. [169] In 1899, Henry Tukeman detailed his killing of a mammoth in Alaska and his subsequent donation of the specimen to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. The museum denied the story. [171] The Swedish writer Bengt Sjögren suggested in 1962 that the myth began when the American biologist Charles Haskins Townsend travelled in Alaska, saw Eskimos trading mammoth tusks, asked if mammoths were still living in Alaska, and provided them with a drawing of the animal. [169] Bernard Heuvelmans included the possibility of residual populations of Siberian mammoths in his 1955 book, On The Track Of Unknown Animals while his book was a systematic investigation into possible unknown species, it became the basis of the cryptozoology movement. [172]

Other Physical Differences

The ears of African elephants are much larger than those of Asian elephants and of mammoths. The exceptionally small ears of woolly mammoths better protected them from cold temperatures. That tundra species certainly was hairier than elephants are -- it had both an undercoat and an outer one -- but mammoth varieties from more temperate latitudes likely had mostly bare hides. Trunk tips differ among the elephantids, too. African elephants and mammoths have two fingerlike extensions at the tip -- though of different shapes -- while the Asian elephant has just one.

Elephant History

The genus mammoths, in latin ‘Mammuthus’, was a group of species, belonging to the family of elephants, entirely separated in taxonomy from the Mastodons and the genus family ‘Mammutidae’, although they sometimes shared the same environment. (For scientific reasons, the mastodons was renamed to family ‘Mammutidae’, which became a source for future confusion and misunderstandings).

The Mammoth probably has origin from ‘Stegodon’ and started to develop during upper Pliocene, (some 4 million years ago) in Africa. Mammoths spread to Europe and Asia, and Mammuthus meridionalis went over the Bering Strait to North America about 1.8 million years ago, (the woolly Mammoth went over much later) and became extinct during lower Holocene, probably exterminated by prehistoric humans who hunted them.

The modern-day African and Asian elephants belong to the order ‘Proboscidea’. In the past there were some 350 members in this order, however, over time the majority of the members succumbed to extinction. Today, there are only two final survivors to this order, Elephas maximus (Asian elephant) and Loxodonta africana (African elephant).

Much like their predecessors, these two species are facing a grim future that is heading very near to another man-propelled extinction.

Mammoth Characteristics

Mammoths had bumps on their head.

Both male and female mammoth had tusks.

Some of the Mammoths tusks were straight, some were curved.

The longest Mammoth tusks were up to 13 feet (4 metres) long.

Mammoths had longer tusks than Mastodons, a wider head, a sloping back and flat chewing teeth.

The Mammoths trunk had two finger-like projections like African elephants.

Mammoths teeth were flat like asian elephants.

Most species of Mammoth were not larger than recent elephants.

More Elephant History: The Jarkov Mammoth

There is probably no animal more widely acknowledged as symbolizing the prehistoric North than the woolly mammoth. Although the remains of many mammoths have been discovered, none have excited the publics imagination like Siberias Jarkov Mammoth. The distinct possibility that with the current state of cloning technology, a new mammoth can be created has fired many peoples imagination.

Woolly mammoths roamed the northern plains for most of the last 2 million years or so, until just 10,000 years ago. A subject of controversy for many years, it is generally agreed now that mammoths died out from a combination of changing climate, hunting pressure from humans and probably disease. Most of the 100 or so mammoths found to date appear to have gotten trapped and died in swamps or soft soil, or to have been buried by avalanches.

The Jarkov Mammoth seems to have become stuck in mud in the bottom of a creek. Found on Siberia’s Taimyr Peninsula in 1997 by a 9 year old boy, this mammoth was about 47 years old when he died just over 20,000 years ago. Finding mammoth bones is not at all unusual for the native people of the region, the Dolgan. Roaming the land with their herds of reindeer, they often come across partial skeletons as they melt out of the permafrost. The apparent condition of the Jarkov Mammoth, however, makes it a unique find.

A French mammoth-hunter, Bernard Buigues spearheaded the successful project to recover the Jarkov Mammoth. Encased in a 23 tonne block of ice and mud, the remains were flown 200 miles to Khatanga, hoisted under the worlds largest helicopter. The contents of the block of ice and mud are still not known in detail, however, hair sticks out at many points, indicating that the body may be virtually complete. It is being thawed out by a team of 25 scientists in an ice cave at Khatanga. Although the mammoth was found by a Dolgan boy, interest in his people seems to have faded quite quickly.

Todays Elephant Status:

Elephants once were common throughout Africa, even in northern Africa as late as Roman times. They have since disappeared from that area due to over hunting and the spread of the desert. Even though they are remarkably adaptable creatures, living in habitats ranging from lush rain forest to semi desert, there has been much speculation about their future. Surviving populations are pressured by poachers who slaughter elephants for their tusks and by rapidly increasing human settlements, which restrict elephants movements and reduce the size of their habitat.

Today it would be difficult for elephants to survive for long periods of time outside protected parks and reserves. However, confining them also causes problems without access any longer to other areas, they may harm their own habitat by overfeeding and overuse. Sometimes they go out of protected areas and raid nearby farms.

Today, both the African elephant and the Asian elephant are in danger. Under the Endangered Species Act, the African elephant is listed as a threatened species and the Asian elephant is listed as an endangered species. Endangered means a species is considered in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range, and threatened means a species is considered in danger of becoming endangered.

Whither the Woolly Mammoth?

It is clear that any attempt to ban tusking outright would invite serious criticism from local residents, and conservationists have argued that a blanket ban would likely drive the industry underground, increasing the likelihood of involvement by organised criminal groups. Instead, some studies have indicated that promoting mammoth ivory prospecting in a sustainable way could reduce the impact on elephant ivory. Mammoth ivory is viewed by its carvers and consumers as a sustainable solution to help eradicate elephant poaching, if managed properly.

One of the key problems remains the categorisation of the mammoths, both internationally and within Russia. In June 2019, Israel attempted to amend this and put forward a proposed change to the CITES Convention, that would classify mammoths as an endangered species, even though it is extinct. If adopted, this bill would force any international trade in ice ivory to be highly regulated through licensing procedures. However, CITES did not accept the amendment, maintaining that mammoths had been extinct for 4,000 years, and that Israel’s statements about the extent of ivory laundering were too anecdotal to provide serious evidence.

Without clear domestic and international legislation to regulate this industry, and as climate change continues to warm many of Russia’s permafrost regions, prospecting and the illegal trafficking of mammoth tusks is only likely to increase. Although there are currently plenty of mammoth tusks buried in the permafrost, they are a finite resource, and the economic loss of illegally trafficked consignments abroad is likely losing the regional budget millions of rubles a year in tax revenue. But as virtually all mammoth ivory originates from Siberian and Far Eastern parts of Russia, if a solution to regulating the market is to be found, Russia must be prepared to be at forefront of those efforts.

Emily Ferris is a Research Fellow in the International Security Studies department at RUSI.

Joanna Hosa is Deputy Director of the Wider Europe Programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

The views expressed in this Commentary are the authors', and do not represent those of RUSI or any other institution.

BANNER IMAGE: Verkhoyansk Range, Republic of Sakha (Yakutia). Courtesy of Ilya Varlamov/Wikimedia Commons.