On the Edge of Survival

The severe change in climate associated with the close of the Pleistocene surely placed the giant mammoths under a considerable deal of survival pressure, and as life became more difficult, their numbers surely dwindled. Yet, if we are to attribute the cause of mammoth extinction solely to climate, there are some vexing questions which we must answer first.

If climate change at the close of the Pleistocene killed the mammoths off, why in the past had they managed to survive the advance and retreat of several glacial episodes? Indeed, the Columbian mammoth was itself a product of a previous glacial recession, in which its ancestors were isolated in North America and slowly evolved into the Columbian mammoth. If it managed to survive the advance and retreat of previous glacial episodes, then why did it die out this time?

Why, in caves across Europe, do we find the engravings of mammoths surrounded by the figures of hunters, the animals complete with protruding embeded spears?

And, most intriguingly, why were mammoths able to survive on isolated islands with limited food resources in incredibly harsh conditions for millenia after their mainland cousins had died off. This is what could be the most difficult question to answer of them all.

Go back to the Table of Contents, or go on to the Hand of Man to see how human beings and mammoths interacted.