What killed the woolly mammoth? A whole bunch of things, say scientists. (+video)
"These findings pretty much dispel the idea of any one factor, any one event, as dooming the mammoths," researcher Glen MacDonald, a geographer at the University of California, Los Angeles, told LiveScience.
Scientists investigated the extinction of woolly mammoths living in Beringia, the last refuge of mammoths that nowadays lies mostly submerged under the icy waters of the Bering Strait. To get an idea of woolly mammoth abundance, past climate and other environmental factors, they analyzed samples from more than 1,300 woolly mammoths, nearly 450 pieces of wood, nearly 600 archaeological sites and more than 650 peatlands, compiling their ages and locations to see how these giants and their environments changed over time. They also probed mammoth genetic data found in fossils of the titans.
"There will be people talking about the incompleteness of the fossil record, and there'll always be uncertainties here, no question, but the size of our database is thousands of data points, so I think we can see the general patterns," MacDonald said.
Their results revealed woolly mammoths flourished in the open steppe of Beringia between 30,000 to 45,000 years ago, with its relatively abundant grass and willow trees. The area wasn't as warm then as today, but not as cold as the height of the ice age. "That seemed to be very favorable for mammoths, in terms of abundance," MacDonald said. Humans coexisted with mammoths back then, clearly not driving them to extinction at that time. [Gallery: The World's Biggest Beasts]