A new paleontological study shows that, indeed, woolly mammoths became extinct because of human hunters.
Up until now it was generally believed, not solely regarding wooly mammoths, but large mammals in general, that they became extinct because of the Ice Age. When such a radical shift in the Earth’s climate happens, whole bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers and even seas can freeze over and most of the land is covered in a thick layer of ice.
This, of course, leads to improper conditions for both the flora and fauna to exist on the surface of the Earth. Consequently, this meant that the large mammals in prehistory had nothing to eat. Also, the temperatures were far too low to sustain life. And they disappeared. Or so scientists thought until now.
Paleontologists have conducted new lab tests on a few tusks belonging to wooly mammoths. What they found was that the chemicals in the bone showed the animals had been weaned sooner than normal. Also, the weaning time appears to have decreased over time. In numbers, it decreased approximately 36 months over a period of 30 000 years.
Normally, if the Ice Age had been responsible for a change in the life of the big mammals, the effect would have been reversed. Had the climate changed so drastically and the wooly mammoths found themselves unable to find food, they would have offered milk to their young for a longer period of time, not shorter.
However, since it is the other way round, the cause for this was, probably, stress. The stress of being hunted down and killed, which determined the wooly mammoths to wean their cubs a lot sooner than they were supposed to.
Seeing as the wooly mammoth was one of the biggest mammals alive at the time and had very few natural predators, humans seem most likely to have caused the carnage and, ultimately, the species’ extinction. Humans hunted the mammoths for their fur, which they used for clothing, bedding and warmth, for their meat, which they ate and for their tusks, out of which they fashioned weapons and jewelry.
But the portrait is not as grim as it appears. At first glance it might seem harsh that our ancestors were responsible for killing off an entire species, but, looking at the bigger picture, nature just followed its course. Had the wooly mammoth and, with it, all the other large mammals not disappeared, the human race might not have existed today, since the animals acted as predators.
It’s hard to imagine humans evolving in a world where the largest rat was 3 meters long and weighed close to a tone.
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