Humans Had Significant Role in the Extinction of the Woolly Mammoth

Woolly Mammoth Siberia

Woolly mammoths persisted in Siberia until the mid-Holocene. Credit: Mauricio Anton

New research shows that humans had a significant role in the extinction of woolly mammoths in Eurasia, occurring thousands of years later than previously thought.

An international team of scientists led by researchers from the University of Adelaide and University of Copenhagen, has revealed a 20,000-year pathway to extinction for the woolly mammoth.

“Our research shows that humans were a crucial and chronic driver of population declines of woolly mammoths, having an essential role in the timing and location of their extinction,” said lead author Associate Professor Damien Fordham from the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute.

“Using computer models, fossils, and ancient DNA we have identified the very mechanisms and threats that were integral in the initial decline and later extinction of the woolly mammoth.”

Signatures of past changes in the distribution and demography of woolly mammoths identified from fossils and ancient DNA show that people hastened the extinction of woolly mammoths by up to 4,000 years in some regions.

“We know that humans exploited woolly mammoths for meat, skins, bones, and ivory. However, until now it has been difficult to disentangle the exact roles that climate warming and human hunting had on its extinction,” said Associate Professor Fordham.

The study also shows that woolly mammoths are likely to have survived in the Arctic for thousands of years longer than previously thought, existing in small areas of habitat with suitable climatic conditions and low densities of humans.

“Our finding of long-term persistence in Eurasia independently confirms recently published environmental DNA evidence that shows that woolly mammoths were roaming around Siberia 5,000 years ago,” said Associate Professor Jeremey Austin from the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA.

Associate Professor David Nogues-Bravo from the University of Copenhagen was a co-author of the study which is published in the journal Ecology Letters.

“Our analyses strengthens and better resolves the case for human impacts as a driver of population declines and range collapses of megafauna in Eurasia during the late Pleistocene,” he said.

“It also refutes a prevalent theory that climate change alone decimated woolly mammoth populations and that the role of humans was limited to hunters delivering the coup de grâce.”

“And shows that species extinctions are usually the result of complex interactions between threatening processes.”

The researchers emphasize that the pathway to extinction for the woolly mammoth was long and lasting, starting many millennia before the final extinction event.

Reference: “Process-explicit models reveal pathway to extinction for woolly mammoth using pattern-oriented validation” by Damien A. Fordham, Stuart C. Brown, H. Reşit Akçakaya, Barry W. Brook, Sean Haythorne, Andrea Manica, Kevin T. Shoemaker, Jeremy J. Austin, Benjamin Blonder, Julia Pilowsky, Carsten Rahbek and David Nogues-Bravo, 5 November 2021, Ecology Letters.
DOI: 10.1111/ele.13911

26 Comments on "Humans Had Significant Role in the Extinction of the Woolly Mammoth"

  1. I’m shocked at this article. I’ve never seen your site publish incorrect information before. The wooly mammoths died off due to climate change and genetic defects. Makes me wonder about so many of the articles posted by this site and whether any of them were based on misinformation.

    • I’m shocked by your comment. Please read mine.

    • Of course humans are at fault. The correlation between people (population) and atmospheric CO2 is almost perfect and the numbers keeps rising. The problem back then was there weren’t enough people using fossil fuels to improve their lives.. Something else must have caused global warming to be the answer.

      “We know that humans exploited woolly mammoths for meat, skins, bones, and ivory.” Human are still exploiting food for energy and clothing…even vegetarians need food.

    • Torbjörn Larsson | November 15, 2021 at 7:02 am | Reply

      Science publishing disagreeing papers on open question is not a fault – it is a strength. And it is also why an area still can be open (inconclusive).

      This is one. But see my comment on the recent, likely much better (explains more data, has better methods) Nature paper. The discussed publication here was a letter only, meaning it is a hasty concoct and/or small contribution.

  2. Chris Rockwell | November 14, 2021 at 6:10 am | Reply

    With evidence of meteor impacts on the laurentide ice sheet along with evidence of A catalyzmic flood due to the rapid melting of that sheet, id say thag had A bigger role in the mammoths extinction.

  3. Of course humans are at fault. Every continent that humans migrated to after leaving Africa had fauna completely unprepared for homo sapiens. From new Zealand to Australia, from Madagascar to the Americas and Eurasia it has always been the same. The giant wombat (Australia) gone 40,000 BC when people arrived, the giant moa (NZ) gone by 1300 AD after people arrived, the elephant bird and giant lemur (Madagascar) gone by 1000 BC after people arrived, etc .
    But what is astounding here is that mammoths survived on the continent of Asia until 3000 BC, up till now I had only read that they survived only on Wrangel Island in the Arctic till 2,000 BC but were gone from the mainland by 10,000 BC. A huge discovery. What else do we not really know?

    • Wherever we have shown, large animals disappeared.
      We are apex predators!

    • People arrived in Madagascar in 1500ad. Elephant birds went extinct 1600 – 1700ad. A museum in New York has an undamaged egg. You are still correct humans are responsible for their extinction 100%.

    • Torbjörn Larsson | November 15, 2021 at 7:08 am | Reply

      You reason from a conclusion.

      And it is not surprising that this time such ad hoc ideas may have led you wrong, see my comment with a strong, recent work on why the changing climate may have been responsible, and see your own observation of mammoth-human temporal coexistence.

  4. This is why the general public has absolutely NO FAITH in the scientific community’s ability to determine why anything went extinct. Two weeks
    ago the article on this website claimed “climate change… not humans,” that cause the extintion of the Wooly Mammoth. But of course, humans didnt have a hand in that so, now its “Humans, not climate change.” They couldnt possibly allow the general public to believe its not their fault. As long as humans are blamed for EVERYTHING, thats all that matters. Its all complete BS and rediculousness (the attitude, not the debated “evidence”).

    This article completely invalidates both ideas. Maybe the titles should indicate both ideas are 2 most popular THEORIES among other possible theories as opposed to making a solid statement that cant even be positively proven.

    • Torbjörn Larsson | November 15, 2021 at 7:10 am | Reply

      And ironically this is why you should have confidence (not “faith”) in the self-correcting scientific process [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science ].

      If you want a more final answer, look in areas where the science is already settled. This area isn’t one of them.

      • “… look in areas where the science is already settled.”

        Just where might that be? More than 100 years after Einstein published his theories of special and general relativity, astronomers and physicists are still conducting experiments to see if the predictions hold up.

  5. So now everybody know better than an international team of scientists.

  6. This is how science works guys… twenty years ago “the truth” was that our brains don’t make new neurons, but that doesn’t mean that we should question neuroplasticity

  7. REALLY !!!! Virtually all the mega fauna in North America disappeared at the same time during the Younger Dryas. Somehow scientist think that a spear chucker is going to eliminate the short faced bear hat was 50% bigger than a grizzly and ran at 40 MPH? Or they eliminated the saber tooth tiger and the woolly mammoth and mastodon all with a spear in 100 years? HEE HEE those were some extremely tough cave men.

    Makes you wonder why the Africans did not eliminate the lions and tigers and elephants OHHH MY. I suggest that the scientists go to Africa and hunt a lion. Two things will be accomplished: the lions will be fed and they will eliminate idiots in the scientific community.
    Yes and the great Pyramids were built in 20 years using bronze tools and ropes and donkeys. MAYBE these geniuses should try working with their hands for a month.

  8. Torbjörn Larsson | November 15, 2021 at 6:58 am | Reply

    The recent Nature paper, where ancient genome specialist Eske Willerslev is coauthor, is not only thorough but explain a lot of data and the method is also successful in explaining other species data (horses) [ https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-04016-x ]. The conclusion that humans were not the extinction cause is based on tens of thousands of years coexistence.

    The letter in Ecological letters is based on pattern correlations, so is much less explanatory. They note that their process patterns had some of the refugia correct, while others had not.

    “Model agreement for persistence in these mainland Arctic refugia until the mid-Holocene was generally high in the best 1% of models (Video S1), pinpointing locations of Holocene-age refugia. These refugial locations are likely, given the incompleteness of the fossil record (Figure S3) and low numbers of mammoths projected during the Holocene (Figure 2). In contrast, refugia projected in the high elevation plateaux of southern Asia, and in Svalbard, during the Holocene had low model agreement: on average <9% probability of occurrence (Video S1)."

    One can see that their models have the populations crashing at the same time with or without humans except in the small areas of refugia. They draw conclusions from the model (map) not the data (terrain), apart from the (poorly worded, mostly incomprehensible) observation on refugia.

  9. Eric C McDonald | November 15, 2021 at 4:35 pm | Reply

    What is the proof?
    It’s not science without presenting the data,that everyone can check.

    Did the woolly rhinoceros, cave bears and other supersized animals of the pleistocene die due to humans as well?

  10. LaNELL BARRETT | November 16, 2021 at 4:36 am | Reply

    I have repeatedly said the world is HIGHLY overpopulated. And no end in sight but THE end. (People…one child born per person, in other words. And only then if you are going to pay for their childhood needs.)
    But. We were not to blame for the end of wooly mammoths, nor dinosaurs, nor the cause of the Ice Ages (yes, plural) and global warmings. Of which there also have been documentation of multiple.

  11. Christopher Merla | November 17, 2021 at 5:47 am | Reply

    So humans did not kill off African or Asian elephants, only woolly mammoths, apparently. Who killed off the mastodons? I suspect the academic work cited is a tad more nuanced than these few short paragraphs indicate. This is typical entertainment posing as “science” twaddle, and plays to popular biases and anxieties. It is drivel.

  12. No? Really? You mean they should have been Vegan? Why you should have been born thousands of yrs ago to set them straight & let them know how to survive. Whew. You’re so very very smart aren’t ya? Why you sure are.

  13. Your article doesn’t explain a damn thing.

  14. Nicolas Trujillo | November 19, 2021 at 4:38 pm | Reply

    Yes the parasites called human beings destroy everything and give nothing back. “People” and i use the term generally do nothing. Maybe the whites should look at the American Indians and aborigines about how they view what’s happened? Just an Italian and Spanish person’s view

  15. What about the ash layer? Found all the way around the planet, these animals were dying as our planet was burning. Explain that. And do u really think that the most symbiotic point of our evolution with the planet, the tribal Indian was stupid enough to kill 20 million wooly mammoths. Even though they lived along with other species they used as food and did not cause their extinction. Hey anybody go to Africa and hunt an elephant with a spear with all your buddy’s. Tell me how that goes. Yo that taurid meteor stream has reset this planet a couple times.

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