What Lead to the Extinction of Mammoths?

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Northeast Siberia, which was not covered by ice in the Ice Age, conceals an enigma. The climate there has apparently changed drastically since the end of the Ice Age, and the yearly temperature has dropped many degrees below its previous levels. Animals once lived in this region that do not live there now, and plants grew there that are unable to grow there now. The change must have occurred quite suddenly. The cause of this drastic climate change has not been explained. In this catastrophic change of climate and under mysterious circumstances, all the mammoths of Siberia perished.

The mammoth belonged to the family of elephants. Its tusks were sometimes as much as ten feet long. Its teeth were highly developed and their “density” was greater than in any other stage in the evolution of the elephants; apparently they did not succumb in the struggle for survival as an unfit product of evolution. The extinction of the mammoth is thought to have coincided with the end of the last glacial period. Tusks of mammoths have been found in large numbers in northeast Siberia; this well-preserved ivory has been an object of export to China and Europe ever since the Russian conquest of Siberia and was exploited in even earlier times. In modern times, the ivory market of the world still found its main source of supply in the tundras of northeast Siberia. In 1799, the frozen bodies of mammoths were found in these tundras. The corpses were well preserved, and the sledge dogs ate the flesh unharmed. The flesh was fibrous and marbled with fat and looked as fresh as well frozen beef.

What was the cause of their death and the extinction of their race? George Cuvier, a French zoologist and naturalist wrote of the extinction of the mammoths: “Repeated irruptions and retreats of the sea have neither all been slow nor gradual; on the contrary, most of the catastrophes which have occasioned them have been sudden; and this is especially easy to be proved with regard to the last of these catastrophes, and afterwards laid dry, our present continents, or at least a part of the land which forms them at the present day.

In the northern regions, it has left the carcasses of large quadrupeds which became enveloped in the ice and have thus been preserved even to our own times, with their skin, their hair, and their flesh. If they had not been frozen as soon as killed, they would have been decomposed by putrefaction. And, on the other hand, this eternal frost could not previously have occupied the places in which they have been seized by it, for they could not have lived in such a temperature. It was, therefore, at one and the same moment that these animals were destroyed and the country which they inhabited became covered with ice. This event has been sudden, instantaneous, without any gradation, and what is so clearly demonstrated with respect to this last catastrophe, is not less so with reference to those which have preceded it.”

The theory of repeated catastrophes annihilating life on this planet and repeated creations or restorations of life, however, did not convince the scientific world. Like Lamarck before Cuvier, Darwin after him thought that an exceedingly slow evolutional process governs genetics and that there were no catastrophes interrupting this process of infinitesimal changes. According to the theory of evolution, these minute changes came as a result of adaptation to living conditions in the struggle of the species for survival.

Like the theories of Lamarck and Darwin, which postulate slow changes in animals, with tens of thousands of years required for a minute step in evolution, the geological theories of the nineteenth century, and of the twentieth as well, regard the geological processes as exceedingly slow and dependent on erosion by rain, wind, and tides.

Darwin admitted that he was unable to find an explanation for the extermination of the mammoth, an animal better developed than the elephant which survived. But in conformity with the theory of evolution, his followers supposed that a gradual sinking of the land forced the mammoths to the hills, where they found themselves isolated by marshes.

However, if geological processes are slow, the mammoths would not have been trapped on the isolated hills. Besides, this theory cannot be true because the animals did not die of starvation. In their stomachs and between their teeth undigested grass and leaves were found. This, too, proves that they died from a sudden cause. Further investigations showed that the leaves and twigs found in their stomachs do not now grow in the regions where the animals died, but far to the south, a thousand or more miles away.

It is apparent that the climate has changed radically since the death of the mammoths; and as the bodies of the animals were found not decomposed but well preserved in blocks of ice, the change in temperature must have followed their death very closely or even caused it. There remains to be added that after storms in the Arctic, tusks of mammoths are washed up on the shores of arctic islands; this proves that a part of the land where the mammoths lived and were drowned is covered by the Arctic Ocean.

The mammoth lived in the age of man. Man pictured it on the walls of caves; remains of men have repeatedly been found in Central Europe together with remains of mammoths; occasionally the settlements of the Neolithic man of Europe are found strewn with the bones of mammoths. Man moved southward when Europe was covered with ice and returned when the ice retreated. Historical man witnessed great variation in climate.

In Moravia, a settlement has been excavated in which remnants of a human culture and remains of men were found together with skeletons of eight hundred to one thousand mammoths. Shoulder blades of mammoths were used in the construction of human graves in the end of the last glacial period, simultaneously with the mammoths of Europe and Alaska.

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Mammoth Tusk With Reindeer Carvings

If this is so, the Siberian mammoth was also the contemporary of a rather modern man. At a time when in Europe, close to the ice sheet, man was still in the later stages of Neolithic culture, in the near and Middle East—the region of the great cultures of antiquity—he may already have progressed well into the metal age.

There exists no chronological table of Neolithic culture because the art of writing was invented approximately at the advent of the copper—the early— period of the Bronze Age. It is presumed that the Neolithic man of Europe left pictures but no inscriptions, and consequently, there are no means of determining the end of the Ice Age in terms of chronology.

Hence the mystery continues as to what really happened to the mammoths. Was the end of Ice Age really the main reason of their extinction or was it something else?

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