Ancient Mammoth Discovery Reveals Clues About Life in Ice Age

Jan 28, 2022

Well-preserved fossils of five mammoths from the Ice Age more than 200,000 years ago have been discovered in southwest England. A dig unearthed the remains of the two adult mammoths, along with two juveniles and an infant. 

Other finds included tools used by Neanderthals and the remains of other big Ice Age animals such as elks. The dig also turned up dung beetles, freshwater snails, seeds, pollen, and plants, some of them extinct

“Words can’t quite capture the thrill,” the co-founder of the group leading the excavation. She said it’s rare to find such old mammoth bones in “pristine condition” and so close to Neanderthal stone tools. 

Researchers say the finds will shed light on how our Neanderthal ancestors lived in harsh conditions. They said the bones will show how climate change affects species and ecosystems. Experts estimate that Neanderthals lived at the site between 210,000 and 220,000 years ago. Then, temperatures dropped. That drove them south. 

The first mammoths have been traced to 5 million years ago in Africa. The newly discovered fossils belong to steppe mammoths. They were the largest of the species. The animals lived from about 1.8 million to 200,000 years ago.

The mammoths look like oversized elephants. They once grew to up to 15 tons, but dropped to 10 tons. Scientists believe the decline in size resulted partly from the climate growing colder and food becoming scarcer. It remains uncertain whether Neanderthals hunted or herded the mammoths in the find. Another theory is they got trapped in a muddy riverbank.

Artist’s rendition, photo from DigVentures.

What has scientists so excited about the recent discovery of mammoth bones in southwest England? (Common Core RI.5.3; RI.6.3)
a. It’s the first discovery of mammoth bones.
b. The bones are still in excellent condition.
c. It’s the first proof that Neanderthals hunted mammoths.
d. The bones prove that mammoths could sometimes get stuck in muddy river banks.
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