Woolly Mammoth Unearthed in Michigan—What Killed These Giants?

woolymammoth_natgeoFarmers recently uncovered the remains of a woolly mammoth in a Chelsea, Michigan, soy field. Here, the skull is lifted onto a trailer for transport, with straps and ties to secure to cracks in the tusks. 

The discovery of a nearly complete mammoth skeleton last week in Michigan raises the question of not only this animal’s fate, but also what happened to the rest of the woolly mammoths. Did humans drive the Ice Age’s great beasts to extinction?

In news reports, University of Michigan paleontologist Dan Fisher proposed that prehistoric people killed and butchered the newly found mammoth, refrigerating what they didn’t immediately eat by sinking the rest of the carcass in a frigid lake. Other scientists say we can’t be certain what killed the creature until the bones are examined for cut marks and other clues.

As for the rest of the woolly mammoths, whether humans are to blame for their disappearance, as well that of 36 other North American mammal species that went extinct at the end of the Ice Age, remains hotly disputed. The other leading contender: a changing climate.

Rare Find

Farmers digging a soy field near Chelsea, Michigan, were surprised to uncover the bones of a woolly mammoth that trod the region about 12,000 years ago.

Fisher excavated the bones, including a skull complete with tusks. While woolly mammoths have been found from Europe through Asia and North America, only about ten woolly mammoth skeletons have been dug up in Michigan, compared with around 300 of their more primitive cousin, the American mastodon.

Mammoths were probably rare in Michigan, Illinois State Museum paleontologist Chris Widga says, because of the waxing and waning of the glaciers there. “Michigan was under ice when mammoths were the only elephants on the landscape,” Widga says, the elephants grazing the cold grasslands south of the great ice sheets. “By the time the ice melted, mastodons were out-competing mammoths.”

The occurrence of even one more mammoth is reason to celebrate. “Even though this is just one site on the landscape, we’ve gotten better about eking out as much information as we can about individual animals,” Widga says, citing Fisher’s work on figuring out the life histories of particular mammoths through details preserves in their tusks read more plus watch video —>  http://news.nationalgeographic.com/


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