Mammoths on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean

3 Apr 2010

At March 30th (science and archaeology section) ... reports on a paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B on what might have caused the extinction of wooly mammoths across Eurasia and North America - without firm conclusions. The paper instead addresses the survival of mammoths on Wrangel Island off the Siberian coast, and raises some very interesting points. However, it does not address the main one - why did mammoths live on an Arctic Ocean island during the Ice Age? Siberia was supposed to have been frozen - so where did these mammoths manage to find vegetation during the Pleistocene - and during the early Holocene? This is the mystery I would have thought but is not mentioned. The size of the animals was reduced in the Holocene as a result of being confined to a relatively small island - but they survived for at least four thousand years. Recent C14 data has suggested that a few of them continued to live on the island until as late as 1700BC. Wrangel Island, roughly the size of Corsica, was joined to Siberia during the Pleistocene but became an island at some stage in the early Holocene period - and there are published SIS articles on this. The fact they survived on an Arctic island more or less proves these animals were adapted to the cold - contrary to some arguments concerning the amount of vegetation they required in order to survive. What they found is the mammoths were probably affected by a sudden change in environment - around 6000BC. This coincides with the global sea level changes noted by Stephen Oppenheimer in Eden in the East (reviewed in SIS) and appear to coincide with a 400 year phase of cooling (somewhat like a mini-Dryas event). In the paper the changes are described as 'mega storms' or a virus (disease) or simply a cooler climate reducing plant growth. Nice research.