Mammoths have captured the fascination of countless scientists along the years. There is a strong sense of mystery attached to their image: herds walking almost silently through the unforgiving freezing winds and storms of the ice age and yet thriving… But how? What made them so strong in the face of the cruel nature at that time?
Mammoths have always captured people’s imagination; resulting in iconic cave paintings and modern artists often depicting them as these mountain-sized animals, but the truth of the matter is that they were not that different from their cousins – the elephants. All species of mammoths were almost the same size as the Asian elephant and had incredibly similar behaviour: very social and attached to its herd. Most of the differences between elephants and mammoths came around as a need to adapt to the climate. Their thick fur helped during harsher conditions, their layers of fat helped them during fasting periods when food was scarce, their small tail and almost unnoticeable ears kept them safe from frostbite and ultimately, their most iconic feature – their curved tusks, almost 4 metres long, assisted them in finding food, defending themselves and scraping away the snow and ice.
From 4.8 million years ago, up until about 3,700 years ago, mammoths roamed the lands of Europe, Asia and North America. But what led them to extinction? Was it the climate or humans? In a short answer – we still don’t know. Humans did play their part in hunting them, but mammoths have gone extinct in places where humans never lived, too.
A recent discovery might have shed some light on how exactly humans managed to defeat these animals that were about twice their size. For the first time, the use of traps has been discovered and in them the remains of 14 woolly mammoths. The discovery was made in Mexico and originally the excavations were carried out for creation of a landfill, but once the 15,000-year-old skeletons were found, the site was taken over by archaeologists and anthropologists to further investigate the relationship between early humans and mammoths.
You might ask yourself – why is any of this important? Because every discovery is a piece of the puzzle that will finally help us understand the world. And because every discovery leads us closer to the answers of the questions we don’t even have yet.