Woolly Mammoths

In 1977 a Russian bulldoze operator working in Siberia noticed a block of muddy ice containing a dark mass. On closer inspection he was amazed to see the contours of a small elephant-like creature. He had discovered a perfectly preserved Woolly Mammoth.

All over the frozen northern parts of Sibera and Canada we find the frozen carcasses of hundreds of thousands of large mammal species. These are mainly mammoths, but also wooly rhinos and other creatures of this kind. When their stomach contents are examined they have found to have been grazing on warm weather vegetation and yet they are found extremely close to the north pole.

The may be one of the theories that explains Crustal Displacement.


Scientists ecstatic over mammoth find July 19, 2002 - Ananova

A woolly mammoth's tooth and a piece of jaw bone have been unearthed in the same Denver housing development where an 18ft long tusk was found earlier this week.

The tusk, tooth and jaw bone are probably from the same animal and are at least 10,000 years old, scientists said.

The jaw bone is about three feet by two feet. All the finds were discovered near a creek bed about 15 miles south of Denver, Colorado.

Museum officials think the fossils belonged to a fully grown male Columbian mammoth - a seven ton Pleistocene Era animals that roamed the Colorado Plateau and disappeared about 10,000 years ago.

Woolly Mammoth Study Shows Complexity of Evolution

November 1, 2001

The woolly mammoth is the rock star of Ice Age mammals. It's been immortalized in Stone Age cave paintings and carvings and in museum displays as the quintessential Ice Age animal.

How did this Ice Age icon evolve from an elephant-type species grazing in Africa to a highly specialized Arctic dweller?

Two researchers studying the fossil record of European and Siberian mammoths have traced the evolution of the woolly mammoth. The research has raised a few questions about current evolutionary theories. Continued - National Geographic

When mammoths roamed England

A 350,000-year-old skeleton of a woolly mammoth from Steinheim, Germany

November 2, 2001 - BBC

A clash of the mammoths could have taken place in what is now southern England thousands of years ago.

Fossils found in Buckinghamshire and Norfolk suggest that two types of mammoth lived side-by-side in prehistoric times.

Scientists believe herds of more advanced mammoths moving south from Siberia encountered primitive European ones.

The newcomers were better adapted to a cold climate and eventually outbred their contemporaries. But the European mammoths might have interbred with the Siberian invaders, leaving their mark in the gene pool.

150,000-year-old molar tooth of a woolly mammoth from England

Until recently it was thought that the woolly mammoth and the two species of mammoth that preceded it evolved gradually, never walking the planet at the same time.

But in the last few years the theory has been called into question by new fossils uncovered in Europe.

The discoveries, by a Russian and British expert, suggest that different species of mammoth co-existed at two critical stages in their evolution.

Climate change

Andrei Sher, of the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, told BBC News Online: "It's a classic concept that mammoth ancestors came from Africa 3-4 million years ago then gradually evolved in Eurasia during the course of climate change - the trend towards a colder climate.

"According to existing theory, their evolution in Eurasia was gradual, culminating in the woolly mammoth.

"In the last few years, new evidence has been emerging from Europe that doesn't fit the picture."

Mammoth timeline

3-4 million years ago: Mammoths appear in sub-Saharan Africa

1.7 million years ago: Mammoths cross the land bridge that linked Siberia and Alaska

13,000 - 10,000 BC: The Earth's climate changes and ice sheets gradually diminish

10,000 - 9,000 BC: Mammoths start to die out in Europe and Asia

8,000 BC: Full-size mammoths become extinct in Siberia and the Americas

2,000 BC: The last mammoths, a dwarf species found on an island off the coast of Siberia, die out

Three species of mammoth are known to have been present in Europe and Siberia.

The most primitive mammoth was the ancestral or early mammoth, which lived in Europe between about 2.5 million and 700,000 years ago.

This was followed by the steppe mammoth, which lived until about 200,000 years ago, then the woolly mammoth, which finally died out about 3,500 years ago.

"Consequently, the mammoths that lived there had to evolve much faster," he told BBC News Online. "The problem was how did they interact with the European mammoths?"

To answer that question, Dr Sher, and Dr Adrian Lister of University College, London, UK, looked at fossil samples from various sites in European Russia, Europe and Siberia.

They came to the conclusion that during two critical periods in the evolution of mammoths, Siberian mammoths migrated south and encountered their European relatives.

Clash of the giants

Evidence from a site in what is now West Runton, Norfolk, shows that steppe mammoths from Siberia encountered ancestral mammoths in England about one million years ago.

Mammoth teeth found at a second site, in the village of Marsworth, Buckinghamshire, point to a second clash of the giants, later in their evolution.

This took place about 190,000 years ago, between woolly mammoths from Siberia and the steppe mammoths of Europe.

Dr Adrian Lister, co-author of the mammoth study, published in the journal Science, believes the newcomers probably replaced the older mammoth populations.

"The older ones were dying out because the changed habitat wasn't to their liking," Dr Lister told BBC News Online. "Whereas the newcomers were adapted to the colder climate and more open treeless vegetation."

But Dr Lister believes there was probably limited interbreeding between the different mammoths, and even some squabbles.

"Closely related species like that wouldn't normally fight," he told BBC News Online. "But it's possible they could have fought over patches of feeding ground."

Images courtesy of Dr Adrian Lister

Mammoth Extinction Mystery Draws 3 Theories

November 12, 2001 - Wash. Post

As recently as 20,000 years ago, North America had an array of large mammals to rival the spectacular wildlife of modern Africa. Mammoths bigger than African elephants, as well as smaller, pointy-toothed mastodons, ranged from Alaska to Central America. Herds of horses and camels roamed the grasslands while ground sloths the size of oxen lived in the forests and bear-sized beavers built dams in the streams.

By about 10,000 years ago, all of these animals -- and others, such as American lions, cheetahs, sabertooth cats and giant bears -- were gone. Some 70 North American species disappeared, three-quarters of them large mammals. Why?

The question has fascinated archaeologists, geologists, biologists and anthropologists for decades. One long-popular theory holds that the Clovis people, Stone Age immigrants from Asia who appeared in North America about 11,000 years ago, swept across the continent and hunted most of its large mammals to extinction.

But proponents of alternative theories suggest that the animals died of natural causes. According to one view, rapid climate shifts at the end of the Ice Age altered the pattern of North American vegetation, progressively shrinking the habitats of the continent's big mammals until they became extinct.

Another recently proposed scenario casts human immigrants (or perhaps animals or insects they brought with them) as unwitting deliverers of a killer virus that devastated the continent's wildlife.

Did hunters wipe out the American megafauna? Did climate change do it? Or was it a plague?

Scientists on all sides of the debate are hampered by the limits of what can be proved by examining animal fossils and stone spear points. Fossils can't tell researchers the size of animal populations at various times in prehistory or pinpoint precisely when they died out, although they can suggest an approximate chronology. Sophisticated chemical analysis of bones can provide some clues about an animal's diet. In rare cases, genetic or immunological tests on well-preserved soft tissues may be able to yield evidence of infectious diseases.

Paul Martin, professor emeritus of geosciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson, is the most vigorous proponent of the "overkill" theory. He argues that because so many species of large American mammals disappeared about 11,000 years ago, overhunting by the new arrivals is the most plausible explanation. There are abundant examples of extinctions occurring soon after humans arrived on islands, apparently caused by hunting, and Martin believes the same thing could have happened on a continent-wide scale.

"People can do it really fast and it won't leave much evidence behind," he said. The Clovis people "found a favorable environment. Their numbers would increase without serious limit, at a really rapid rate. Within 1,000 years, our species can sweep through the Americas."

But critics respond that if Clovis hunters killed off the mammals, there should be more fossil evidence of the deed. Clovis people's stone weapon points have been found in association with mammoths, mastodons and bison but not with other mammals, noted Russell Graham, chief curator at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

Climate was probably paramount, according to Graham, who presented new evidence to support his position last week at the Geological Society of America's annual meeting in Boston. "I would argue that [mammoths' and mastodons'] ranges were already collapsing" because of climate change when the Clovis hunters showed up, he said. "I think they would have gone extinct without people. . . . People arrived and killed the last few on the landscape."

Donald Grayson, a professor of anthropology at the University of Washington, agrees. He points to recent archaeological evidence from Monte Verde, Chile, that humans had settled in the Americas about 13,000 years ago, well before the Clovis people arrived and the major wave of mammalian extinctions occurred.

Grayson said that at the end of the Ice Age, the melting of the glaciers that had covered Canada and the northern United States caused dramatic alterations in climate and vegetation. In the continent's interior, both winters and summers became more extreme. Landscapes that had contained a patchwork of trees and pasture became more homogeneous -- either all forest or all grassland.

"There were complex combinations of plants that you don't find after that period of time," he said. Many animals shifted their ranges in response to changing habitat.

By constructing computer maps of the distribution of mammal fossils from different time periods, Graham sees evidence that the ranges of species like the Columbia mammoth and the Shasta ground sloth were steadily shrinking for thousands of years before they became extinct.

"Large animals require larger geographic ranges, and as you reduce the geographic range, the probability of extinction goes up exponentially," he said. "With small distributions, local effects like fire, disease and competition become very important."

But if climate change was severe enough to cause a wave of extinctions in the Americas, it should have caused the same phenomenon globally, argues Ross D.E. MacPhee, curator of vertebrate zoology at New York's American Museum of Natural History. Yet most other regions were spared, even the nearby West Indies. "Why weren't things falling down in droves in Africa?" he asked.

Like Martin, MacPhee is impressed with the fact that extinctions in the Americas and several other places seem to have closely followed the arrival of humans. But he doubts that overhunting is the explanation, noting that no whale or seal species has been driven to extinction in the past 200 years despite extreme overhunting.

Instead, MacPhee is betting that a virus or other microbe new to the Americas arrived with human settlers and killed off many mammal species that had no natural resistance. He points to the devastation caused later among Native Americans by smallpox, measles and other "European" infections.

"Nothing in nature is able to cause such levels of havoc except emerging diseases," MacPhee said. "It was either the humans themselves that were vectors, or parasites of humans, or it could have been parasites of animals that came in with humans."

To fulfill MacPhee's "hyperdisease hypothesis," a new infection would have had to spread quickly among individuals of all ages and sexes and would have been able to cross species barriers. He suspects it would have spread through the air. Candidates might include influenza and rinderpest, a disease of cattle that also affects deer, antelope and related species.

MacPhee is searching for evidence of such infections in frozen tissue from mammoths, ground sloths and other beasts that died out at the end of the Ice Age. An infected animal's immune system would make antibodies against the invading virus, chemicals that might be detectable. If antibody tests are positive, MacPhee plans to search for viral genetic material.

"No extinction is a simple matter. There's always an environment in which it happens," said MacPhee. "I need to show and convince people that disease by itself could be considered a primary factor, rather than a secondary or negligible one."

Scientist finds prehistoric 'zoo' in Siberian ice

March 6, 2000 - Times

Call of the wild: the mammoth and woolly rhino, whose roaming was depicted by prehistoric man, may make a comeback Scientists have located a frozen "zoo" of prehistoric creatures under the Siberian permafrost which they intend to retrieve for a cloning experiment.

Members of an expedition which last autumn airlifted a mammoth from its icy tomb now claim to have evidence of an extraordinary menagerie of extinct creatures.

Bernard Buigues, the French leader of the expedition, said he knew of another 18 locations which would yield the animals' bodies in a well-preserved state.

He is to begin the search for woolly rhino, steppe lions, giant deer, foxes and hardy breeds of horses from 20,000BC within the next month. He will cover an area extending 300 miles to the northwest and northeast of the Siberian town of Khatanga, 500 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

"Evidence from bones and tusks collected by nomads has alerted us to the location of the sites," said Buigues. He has travelled extensively in the Taymyr Peninsula in Siberia in the past 10 years, and believes he may also have found signs of human settlement from 2,000BC on the shores of Lake Taymyr.

Competition among rival teams of scientists has prompted veiled accusations of underhand tactics. There are suggestions that one group offered the nomads of the region villas on the Côte D'Azur in exchange for successful leads.

Associates of Buigues, whose film of the recovery of the first mammoth will be shown on the Discovery Channel on March 12, say his tactics for winning their co-operation are simple. "He carries a Polaroid camera everywhere to remind them who he is. Almost two-thirds of the 8,000 nomads in the region now have a picture of him together with them."

The prospect of discovering more animal remains in the ice has revived hopes of finding cells in sufficiently good condition to re-create some of the animal life of the Pleistocene era.

Larry Agenbroad, professor of geology at North Arizona University and one of the principal scientific advisers to the expedition, believes it may be possible in the long term to introduce the animals to North America.

Agenbroad, who has spent 30 years working with mammoth remains, said: "There is no significant difference between restoring prehistoric animals and restoring modern creatures such as grizzly bear and bison. Contrary to received opinion, hunting, not just climatic change, also played a part in the demise of the mammoth."

Rival Japanese researchers also have ambitions to emulate Jurassic Park with a sanctuary for the offspring of frozen mammoths and other extinct creatures.

Professor Akira Iritani, of Kinki University, hopes to find a suitable habitat for mammoths in a 100 sq mile wildlife reserve in the Russian republic of Yakutia, known as Pleistocene Park. It is currently home to Yakutian horses and Canadian bison.

This weekend Iritani said he believed mammoths would lumber across Siberia again within the next 20 years.

"We went to the park and looked at it by helicopter. It is fine in the summer, but we will have to provide some shelter for the mammoth in winter. We could easily get our hands on ancient horses and the ancestor of the Siberian tiger," he said.

He envisages releasing up to 40 mammoths in the park, and hopes to revive the species by cross-breeding with female elephants. He believes each generation will approach more closely the genetic inheritance of its forefathers as the females are impregnated with more DNA from the male mammoth.

The first step begins next month when a team of 25 scientists starts to thaw out the mammoth hacked out of the ground by Buigues.

Images taken with ground-penetrating radar underpin their hopes that the 21-ton block of ice and mud contains a complete mammoth. Previous finds have been lost because of flawed excavation methods.

But what if, against all hope, the block contains no more than bones and a few tufts of matted hair? Buigues insists the search will go on. "We are already planning for the next four years. There are many, many more carcasses in the ice."

Complete Mammoth found in Siberia

October 20, 1999 - By Nigel Hawkes, Science Editor - UK - Times Newspapers

The entire body of a woolly mammoth has been exhumed from the ice of Siberia, 23,000 years after it perished.

It was dug from a site on the Taimyr Peninsula on Sunday and flown by helicopter to the town of Khatanga, 150 miles away, a French member of the team responsible for the operation said yesterday.

Bernard Buigues said that the beast, named Zharkov in honour of the family that found it, was slung under the helicopter and flown to a cave dug in the permafrost at Khatanga, which replicates the dry and chilly conditions where it was found.

Exposure to warmer or more humid conditions could cause the remains to start decaying almost instantly.

The head of the mammal was taken from the body last year and is already in the cave, where scientists will carry out painstaking research, he said.

M Buigues said it was the first time that a mammoth had been recovered intact. Previously, the most exciting finds - also in Siberia - had been chunks of preserved flesh.

Two expeditions are in Siberia searching for mammoth remains: a Japanese-led team and the international expedition, called Mammuthus, of which M Buigues is a member and which also includes scientists from the United States, The Netherlands and Russia.

Both groups hope to extract cells from the preserved remains of mammoths and even use them to clone a new mammoth, using a female elephant as a surrogate mother.

But M Buigues played down any Jurassic Park-style reconstruction. "People often dream about resurrecting the mammoth using well preserved cells, but you have to be more modest," M Buigues said. "We don't expect to find red flesh, but rather a kind of dried meat."

Scientists hope that when the mammoth has been unwrapped from the icy soil that has preserved it, light will be shed on how the animals lived and why they died out, he said.

The woolly mammoth, Mammuthus primigenius, well-known from cave paintings, stood 13ft high, about the same as a full-grown African bull elephant.

The last mammoths died out as recently as 4,000 years ago, but there is still debate about why.

Some experts believe that they may have been the first species to be wiped out by man, given that mammoth bones and tusks have been disovered in the habitations of Cro-Magnon cave dwellers.

But these may have been taken from the bodies of dead mammoths, for no evidence has ever been found of mammoth traps or of traces of arrow or axe blows on the bones.

A more widely accepted explanation is that the mammoths died out because of malnutrition after climate change caused the dry vegetation that they ate to suffer a decline in nutritional quality.

Hair from the mammoth

NAU researcher's mammoth job

September 9, 1999- By Kerry Fehr-Snyder - The Arizona Republic

It roamed the Earth 23,000 years ago - only yesterday in geologic terms.

It was big -- 11 feet tall at the shoulder -- and burly -- about 8 tons. Now, with the help of a Northern Arizona University researcher, a full-grown woolly mammoth, complete with hair and skin, will be airlifted from northern Siberia for study.

And maybe for cloning.

"This is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing for me," said NAU's Larry Agenbroad, who is headed to Siberia next week as the only U.S. scientist chosen for an international team of researchers.

Since 1966, Agenbroad has been hunting the extinct beast, which roamed during the Pleistocene era. He is director of the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, S.D., which primarily consists of fossils from the woolly mammoth's cousin, the Columbian mammoth.

But excavating -- even seeing, feeling and smelling -- a fully intact woolly mammoth is a dream come true.

"After looking at bones and every dropping we could find, I have the possibility of touching the wool and the skin and the flesh of this animal," he said.

"Even if that's all that's accomplished, it would be the frosting on the cake of my career."

The mammoth, a male estimated to have died in its 40s, was discovered in 1997 by tribesmen near the Taimyr Peninsula in northern Siberia. The tribe removed the mammoth's tusks, and its exposed head is decomposing slowly in the frigid temperatures.

But ground-penetrating radar determined that the rest of its body remains intact under the permanently frozen tundra.

A French explorer, Bernard Buigues, learned about the find last year and decided to lead a nine-member invitation-only team to exhume and analyze the mammoth.

Buigues reportedly became especially excited after he trained a hair dryer on the animal's head and its smell -- as best he could determine -- came flooding back.

"He's not a biologist, but he said he entered another world where you could smell the animal, the wool, the earth," Agenbroad said.

Buigues convinced the Discovery Channel to pay for and film the three-month expedition. The cable station plans to air a two-hour special called Raising the Mammoth on March 15.

David Merrill, a spokesman for the Discovery Channel, said the expedition's cost will be justified regardless of whether scientists are able to exhume the mammoth.

"We believe it's perfectly preserved and that's amazing," he said.

Agenbroad's colleagues tend to agree.

"A frozen mammoth in Siberia," Paul Martin, an University of Arizona mammoth expert, said wistfully. "Nothing like that's happened since that baby mammoth was found by the Russians during the Cold War."

And the addition of a complete woolly mammoth to zoology's library of specimens would be priceless, Martin said.

Logistically, the team's task will be a challenge.

During the excavation, the team will build a special refrigerated structure above the site to maintain the frozen temperatures below. Once the animal, still encased in ice and tundra, is exhumed, it will be airlifted by the largest helicopter in Russia to frozen caves in Khatanga, about 217 miles away.

The scientists want to keep the animal as well-frozen as possible in hopes of preserving its organs and tissues.

Agenbroad's teaching schedule allows him only two weeks away from NAU for the expedition. His primary role will be in freeing the animal and transporting it.

Over time, he hopes to look at the geologic and ecological environment in which the mammoth lived by studying the contents of its stomach and the botanical remains on its coat and in the dirt.

By analyzing the geologic conditions, Agenbroad may be able to determine how the animal lived and died.

Agenbroad also hopes to compare the diet of the woolly mammoth, which primarily lived in subarctic regions, to the hairless Columbian mammoth of North America.

Most of all, he's just looking forward to being there.

"This is the closest I'll get to probably touching and seeing the animal, or the kissing cousin of the animal, that I've been pursuing all my life."