Humans are often fascinated with the great creatures of the past, extinct long before we even had a chance to meet them. Dinosaurs and pterodactyls, sabretooth tigers and enormous mammoths, they do make us wonder what it was like when they were still living. However, not all of them died out as long ago as you may think. One such is the case of the Woolly Mammoth.
The Mammoth family consists of many species, which roamed the Earth for as far back as the last 5 million years. They covered Africa, Europe and Asia, where some, the Mastodons, even crossed over into North America. Their descendants can still be seen today – the three species of modern elephants. The most recent mammoths were the Wooly Mammoths, living during the last Ice Age, around 400,000 years ago. They were slightly larger than today’s species, reaching up to 3.5 meters in height and could weigh as much as 6 metric tons. They could be found all throughout the Mammoth steppe – the northern parts of Europe, Asia and North America. Their name comes from the thick hairy coat, which protected them from the extreme temperatures and they also had a small trunk and ears to minimize the risk of frostbite. The large, curved tusks, which they were equipped with, were used not only for fighting, but also to dig under the snow into the grassy turf in search of roots and other small plants.
For the last 50 to 70,000 years of their existence, the Wooly Mammoths coexisted with the early humans, which had emerged from Africa and were quickly spreading around the world. Humans hunted them not only for their meat, but also for their tusks and thick hides. The bones as tusks had many applications but were mainly used for art or as raw materials for building shelters. Through the years they were slowly hunted into extinction and around 10,000 years ago, together with the changing of the climate, they disappeared from the mainland. However, some isolated populations survived and one, on Wrangel Island, off the coast of Siberia in the Arctic Ocean survived until around 2,000 B.C. At that time the Egyptians had already built the Great Pyramids of Giza.
Because of the cold weather in which they lived in and the Permafrost, which still covers a large portion these regions till this day, many of their remains are very well preserved and are one of the best studied of any prehistoric animal. Their meat is in such a good condition, that incredibly in 1872 French explorers heading to the North Pole were able to live off of it.