Saturday, March 14, 2015

Wooly mammoths were around during the reign of the pharaohs

We usually think of woolly mammoths as purely Ice Age creatures. But while most did indeed die out 10,000 years ago, one tiny population endured on isolated Wrangel Island until 1650 BCE. So why did they finally go extinct?

Wrangel Island is an uninhabited scrap of land off the northern coast of far eastern Siberia. It's 37 miles from the nearest island and 87 miles from the Russian mainland. It's 2,900 square miles, making it roughly the size of Delaware. And until about 4,000 years ago, it supported the world's last mammoth population. For 6,000 years, a steady population of 500 to 1,000 mammoths endured while their counterparts on the mainland disappeared.

It's truly remarkable just how recent 1650 BCE really is. By then, the Egyptian pharaohs were about halfway through their 3000-year reign, and the Great Pyramids of Giza were already 1000 years old. Sumer, the first great civilization of Mesopotamia, had been conquered some 500 years before. The Indus Valley Civilization was similarly five centuries past its peak, and Stonehenge was anywhere from 400 to 1500 years old. And through all that, with all of humanity in total ignorance of their existence, the mammoths lived on off the coast of Siberia.

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