Wooly Mammoth: Will it be Back to the Future?

September 18th, 2012
in econ_news, syndication

Econintersect:  The last giant wooly mammoth walked the earth nearly 10,000 years ago.  Scientists have found bountiful remains from deeper wooly-mammoth-charles-r.-knightSMALLhistory when conditions were optimal for the vegetarian browsers, some 20,000 to 45,000 years ago.  As the last ice age ended, vegetation became less nutritious for the giant pachyderms and human hunters became more common within their range.  It is believed that a combination of nutrition problems and human predation did the big boys (and girls) in.  A dwarf variety survived longer on Canada's Wrangell Island until poor nutrition drove them to extinction as well arounf 4,000 years ago.  There are also thoughts that some areas in Siberia may have held small mammoth populations more recently than 10,000 years ago, as well.  Click on picture for large image of mural painting by Charles R. Knight.

Follow up:

Scientists have found some particularly well preserved frozen mammoth remains in Siberia this summer.  There is hope that these specimens may provide a source of DNA.  From an Associated Press article at Scientific Computing:

Russia's North-Eastern Federal University said an international team of researchers had discovered mammoth hair, soft tissues and bone marrow some 328 feet (100 meters) underground during a summer expedition in the northeastern province of Yakutia.

It was reported that it would take until at least the end of the year before the first DNA assessment could be completed.

Although the animals carried the name "mammoth" they were about the same size as modern African elephants.  The head and top line profile of a mammoth were different than an Elephant, as shown in the following artistic representation from Wikipedia:

Click on picture for larger image.


Just a few days ago a remarkably well-preserved mammoth tooth was recovered from material removed from a sandy layer dug from 110 feet below the surface of San Fransisco Bay in a casement enclosed excavation for a footing for a new building, the Transbay Transit Center.  According to an article in SF Gate, the tooth was ten inches long and even still had the enamel intact.

One thing that makes finding well preserved teeth so important is that they are one of the best sources of DNA.  There has not been any word yet on when a DNA examination of the new find will be made.


John Lounsbury


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