Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mammoths Alive as Recently as 3600 Years Ago

There’s something about the mammoth that makes even the sort of people that have about as much interest in science and prehistory as I do, kardashians and Gagas, perk up and pay attention. I’m not sure why exactly. Maybe it’s because they look so similar to modern elephants that it’s easier for people to see them as real creatures than, say, a 30 foot tall predatory lizard covered in feathers, for which, we of course have no modern analog. Or maybe it’s just the fur, people love fur.

For the most part, I actually think it’s the idea that we came so close to seeing the mammoth alive and well, in our own time, the last of them having died out in North America a mere 10,000 years ago, that drives peoples fascination with the animals. And now, it seems, we were even closer to living alongside mammoths in modern times than we previously imagined.

While it’s still true that the bulk of the world’s mammoth population died out around 10,000 years ago, with the ending of the last ice age. According to the results of a four year study conducted by British and Swedish researchers on the remains found on Siberia’s Wrangle island, a small population of about 500-1000 of the creatures managed to survive until as recently as 1650 BCE.

The study also showed that Wrangle’s small, isolated, mammoth population didn’t die out as a result of inbreeding either, as had previously been theorized about the group. In fact, it seems that the Wrangle island mammoth population was not only stable, alive, and well, a thousand years after the completion of the great pyramids, but that the animals likely could have survived in isolation on the island indefinitely, if not for some combination of 2 things: the arrival of human beings(oops) and climate change.



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