Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

The Mammoths’ Last Stand

July 22nd, 2009 · No Comments

WrangelIslandMammothYesterday’s news that a comet helped kill off the Ice Age’s most glorious creatures reminded us of this groundbreaking 1995 paper from the journal Radiocarbon. While most of the world’s mammoths disappeared long before mankind figured out the rudiments of civilization, a small pack of the elephant-like beasts survived until 2000 B.C. or later. Their location? The ceaselessly amazing Wrangel Island:

During the last glacial maximum (ca. 20 ka ago), environmental conditions on Wrangel Island proved capable of sustaining habitation by mammoths. Our data show that woolly mammoths persisted on Wrangel Island in the mid-Holocene, from 7390-3730 yr ago. 14C dating has shown that mammoths inhabited Wrangel Island for as long as 6000 yr after the estimated extinction of Mammuthus primigenius on the Siberian continent.

It’s worth noting that the Wrangel Island mammoths were relatively small, at least compared to their cousins who clomped about Europe and North America. And their small size may have accounted for their post-comet adaptability—just as furry little rodents managed to survive the dinosaur-slaying cataclysm of c. 65 million B.C., and thus usher in the age of mammals.

Well, at least that’s what we learned in school. Has the mammalian theory changed since we closed our paleontology textbooks?

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