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Mammoth

The extinct mammoths are Pleistocene mammals among the most striking to the imagination. The Netherlands and the North Sea in Northern Europe are known for its fossil bones of mammoths. These are fished from the North Sea (Dogger Bank, Brown Bank) and found in the alluvial deposits of large rivers. The depots of many Dutch museums are full of mammoth remains.

There are several types of mammoths who coexisted. The best known is the mammoth woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius). Furthermore, in Europe lived the steppe mammoth (Mammuthus trogontherii), southern mammoth (Mammuthus meridionalis) and the dwarf mammoths (Mammuthus lamarmorae) which lived on islands in the Mediterranean Sea. From North America the Imperial mammoth (Mammuthus imperator) and the Columbian mammoth ( Mammuthus columbi) are known.

 

Example of a mammoth tooth. Photo Olof Moleman

The mammoths are known from the Pleistocene (part of the Neogene period). The woolly mammoth and the steppe mammoth had a thick fur as adaptation to the colder climate in Northern Europe and North America during the ice ages. Other mammoth species had less or no hair. Mainly Columbian mammoths could be very large. The European forms grew about as large as the current elephants. However, they had large tusks, which perhaps were used to remove snow to get to the food. Mammoths were large herbivores and ate grass. You can see this in the structure of the teeth.

The mammoth became extinct at the end of the last ice age some 10,000 years ago. Several populations sustained a while longer. There is still a debate about the extent to which man has been responsible for the extinction of mammoths. Besides many bones that have been found, also complete frozen animals discovered in the permafrost of the tundra in Siberia (Russia). Due to these finds much more is known about the lifestyle of mammoths. Things like hair and stomach contents were therefore investigated.


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