Although they became extinct before the beginning of written history, mammoths were recorded by prehistoric humans in their art. There are cave paintings of mammoths across Europe and America showing features of the animals that could not be discerned from skeletons and some fossils, such as the fat-laden hump on the creature’s back. Indeed, Homo erectus is known to have consumed mammoth meat as early as 1.8 million years ago.
The primary cause of the mammoth's extinction is still unknown, though the best explanation offered is a combination of climate change and human hunting.
Apart from the rarer species of dwarf mammoths (which were 4-6 feet tall at the shoulder) woolly mammoths were the smallest variety of mammoths, and roughly equal in size to the modern Asian Elephant. The largest known species, the Imperial Mammoth of California, reached heights of at least 16 feet at the shoulder. Exceptionally large males may have exceeded 12 tons – twice as heavy as the largest recorded elephant.
In 2005, an 11-foot-long mammoth tusk was discovered north of Lincoln, Illinois. At one fossil site, the tusks of two male Columbia mammoths were interlocked – having trapped the two contestants in a death embrace.
In 1999, a French-led expedition became the first to successfully salvage an intact specimen of mammoth. A helicopter lifted the 23-ton chunk of permafrost containing the mammoth from the tundra of central Siberia and, dangling it from a harness, flew it 150 miles to an ice cave in the town of Khatanga, where scientists carefully defrosted it with hair dryers over a period of months.
Woolly mammoth carcasses in Siberia are typically found either along high river banks or in yedomas (rounded hills of frozen silt). Both of these geological features, which are largely composed of permafrost, erode rapidly with the summer thaw or after warm rains. The sight of partially exposed mammoth carcasses emerging from river banks gave rise to the local folklore that these unfamiliar beasts must live underground as giant moles which died instantaneously on contact with the sun.
Various other theories abounded concerning new finds of mammoth fossils – some of the more outlandish ones linked them to Cyclops, unicorns and the biblical behemoth. It wasn’t until 1796 that French anatomist Georges Cuvier put forward the theory that the remains belonged to extinct animals that were similar to, but distinct from, elephants. He named the species Elephas primigenius. Eventually, they were given their own classification, Mammuthus.
Researchers at Penn State University have sequenced the gene map of the woolly mammoth, using DNA taken from hair samples collected from a selection of specimens. Theoretically it is possible to clone the mammoth from recovered tissue, although experts remain divided on whether it would be practically possible.
Creation groan'ed when with laborious birth,
Mammoth was born to rule his parent earth.
Mammoth hair is sold on the black market for $50 an inch.
The last known mammoth died 3,700 years ago on Wrangel Island off Siberia.
In 2003, a museum at Leigh-on-Sea mistook a Victorian drainage pipe for a 150,000-year-old 4ft long woolly mammoth tusk.
Mammoth graveyards in Siberia have about 600 mammoth skeletons per square kilometre.
The ears of a woolly mammoth were shorter than the modern elephant’s ears.