- This article is about the extinct mammal. For the town with this name, see Mammoth, Arizona.
Mammuthus columbi Columbian mammoth
Mammuthus exilis Pygmy mammoth
Mammuthus jeffersonii Jeffersonian mammoth
Mammuthus primigenius Wooly mammoth
A mammoth (< Russian mammant) is any of a number of an extinct genus of elephant, often with long curved tusks and, in northern species, a covering of long hair. They inhabited the northern regions of the world, in Europe, northern Asia, and North America during the Ice Age.
Many types of mammoth lived in temperate and northern climes: the frozen remains of woolly mammoths have been found in the northern parts of Siberia.
Frozen mammoth corpses, when removed from the ice, often prove remarkably fresh: dogs accompanying the finders sometimes ate the flesh. There have been proposals to clone freshly defrosted mammoths in order to revive the species.
In addition to occasional frozen mammoths, large amounts of mammoth ivory were found in Siberia, and were an article of trade for many centuries.
It is a common misconception that mammoths were much larger than modern elephants, an error that has led to "mammoth" being used as an adjective meaning "very big". Certainly, the largest known species, the Imperial Mammoth of California, reached heights of at least 4 meters (13 feet) at the shoulder. However, most species of mammoth were only about as large as a modern Indian elephant, and fossils of a species of dwarf mammoth have been found on Wrangel Island off the east coast of Siberia. They became extinct only at about 2000 BC.
The mammoths diverged from the Asian elephants after the latter group split from the African elephants, meaning that the mammoths were in fact more closely related to the modern Indian elephant than the African elephant is. Since there is a known case in which an Indian elephant and an African elephant have produced a live offspring, it has been theorised that if mammoths were still alive today, they would be able to interbreed with Indian elephants, and this has led to the idea that perhaps a mammoth-like beast could be recreated by taking genetic material from a frozen mammoth and combining it with that from a modern Indian elephant. However, not enough genetic material has been found in frozen mammoths for this to be attempted .
Whether the mammoth died out for climatic reasons or because of overhunting by humans ("overkill") is debated.
There have been claims that the mammoth is not actually extinct, and that isolated herds might survive in the vast and sparsely inhabited tundra of Siberia. The pilot of a WWII Soviet courier plane reported seeing a herd of furry elephants in Siberia in 1944, and some notes compiled by sixteenth and seventeenth century Russian travellers recount the hunting of mammoths for their tusks by local tribesmen. However, no solid evidence exists for these claims.
See also: Mastodon
Last updated: 10-14-2005 22:52:22