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Holocene dwarf mammoths from Wrangel Island in the Siberian Arctic

Abstract

THE cause of extinction of the woolly mammoth, Mammuthus primigenius (Blumenbach), is still debated. A major environmental change at the Pleistocene–Holocene boundary, hunting by early man, or both together are among the main explanations that have been suggested. But hardly anyone has doubted that mammoths had become extinct everywhere by around 9,500 years before present (BP). We report here new discoveries on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean that force this view to be revised. Along with normal-sized mammoth fossils dating to the end of the Pleistocene, numerous teeth of dwarf mammoth dated 7,000–4,000 yr BP have been found there. The island is thought to have become separated from the mainland by 12,000 yr BP. Survival of a mammoth population may be explained by local topography and climatic features, which permitted relictual preservation of communities of steppe plants. We interpret the dwarfing of the Wrangel mammoths as a result of the insularity effect, combined with a response to the general trend towards unfavourable environment in the Holocene.

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Vartanyan, S., Garutt, V. & Sher, A. Holocene dwarf mammoths from Wrangel Island in the Siberian Arctic. Nature 362, 337–340 (1993). https://doi.org/10.1038/362337a0

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