Mammoths and Human Society

Mammoths played an important role for humans during the Pleistocene epoch, 1.8 million to 10,000 years ago. They provided the hunter/gatherers with much-needed meat, skins, and building materials for their huts. As mammoths were likely plentiful, with a population size of several million during the early and mid Pleistocene, the impact of hunting is believed to have been small during that period. On the other hand, human hunting may have been an important factor during the final stages of the mammoths’ existence in the late Pleistocene (20,000 to 10,000 years ago). Still, the impact may not have been large, given the enormous amount of meat coming from a 6 to 8 ton animal, which would have fed 400 people for several weeks. Also, preservation of meat was not an issue for humans living in the ice age, who had access to natural forms of refrigeration. Mammoths might therefore have played a role in human survival similar to today’s farm animals. The appreciation of the Stone Age people is reflected in many pieces of art, such as cave paintings and ivory carvings. It might also explain why people living today still care about mammoths.

The images below, provided by Nick Conard from Tübingen University, are of artifacts on display at a Tübingen museum exhibit. They date from the Aurignacian period (35,000 years ago), making them the earliest examples of figurative art in Europe. For more information, see "Palaeolithic ivory sculptures from southwestern Germany and the origins of figurative art", by N. J. Conard, Nature 426, 830–832 (2003).


Intact woolly mammoth figurine from the Swabian Jura, a plateau in the state of Baden-Württemberg, Germany. The figure is believed to have been made by modern humans some 35,000 years ago.
University of Tübingen photographer H. Jensen
Mammoth figurine no. 2, sandstone, from New Avdeevo. Photo: M. Gvozdover, 'Art of the Mammoth Hunters'.
Mammoth cave painting from Roufignac, France.
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