July 10, 2009

Mammoth Remains Found Farther South Than Expected

Scientists have recently unearthed the fossilized remains of four woolly mammoths in a southern province of Spain, lending support to theories that the last great Ice Age reached much further south than paleontologists had previously thought.

Remains of the four adult male mammoths were discovered in a peat bog in the Granada basin in Andalusia, Spain's southernmost autonomous community.  The dig was part of a joint scientific project of four research institutions"”the Quaternary Paleontology arm of the Senckenberg Research Institutes of Germany, the Universities of Madrid and Oviedo in Spain, and the Natural History Museum of Rotterdam, the Netherlands. 

The find is significant in that it places the now extinct mammals more than 185 miles farther south than mammoths were previously thought to dwell. 

Experts say the massive creatures thrived in the cold, dry grasslands of the last Eurasian ice age.  Radiocarbon-dating tests have put the age of the fossils at between 25,700 and 35,000 years old.

Scientists say that claims that these mammoths were indigenous to the region rather than wandering nomads are supported by the discovery steppe plants in the region, on which the creatures were known to feed.

"These woolly mammoths finds do not belong to stray animals who only chanced to head south, but belonged to Granada's permanent inhabitants at this time," explained Diego Alvarez-Lao of the University of Oviedo.

"Fossil plants which have been found in drill cores from scientific drilling in Spain and the nearby Mediterranean Sea, as well as our investigations of the Padul sediments indicate that the animals lived on the plants of the mammoth steppe," added Nuria García of the University Complutense de Madrid.

Researchers suspect that the wooly titans began heading south in Spain at approximately the same time as similar advances into eastern China, northern Japan and Kamchatka were also being made"”a general migration trend that is thought to have been connected with climate change in the northeast Atlantic and northwest Pacific.

"This is proof that global mechanisms which regulated climate already during the Ice Age also influenced vegetation and with it also animal migration," said Ralf-Dietrich Kahlke of Germany's Senckenberg Research Institutes.

While the well known giant woolly mammoths went extinct shortly after the end of the Pleistocene epoch some 10,000 years ago, a dwarfed subspecies of the creatures was known to inhabit the tiny Russian Wrangel Island as recently as 1,700 B.C.

Thought there is some debate as to the significance of different factors, researchers generally agree that a combination of natural global warming and hunting by growing populations of prehistoric humans were responsible for the woolly mammoth's eventual extinction.

The research group has published their results in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology.


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