Tag Archives: Life History

A Mammoth’s Journey: New isotopic science

In 2017, John McKay elucidated the history of modern science through the lens of the mammoth, or really, the mammoth hunters, in his book* Discovering the Mammoth: A Tale of Giants, Unicorns, Ivory, and the Birth of a New Science. The difference between what (mainly) European thinkers thought about the meaning of mammoth and other megafauna bones in the early days of discovery and what we knew a decade ago is not merely reflective of the accretion of knowledge and understanding of an observed science. It is much more dramatic than that. For example, a theory thought viable in the 189th century (IIRC, it has been a little while since I read McKay’s book) is that mammoths were still extant, and lived underground as fossorial animals, and could not survive contact with open air. Frozen mammoth carcasses would then represent mammoths that got too close to the surface, accidentally breathed, died, and were frozen in place, partly sticking out. Other early thinking on mammoth and other megafauna remains invoked unicorns and other mythical creatures. We have come a long way. Continue reading A Mammoth’s Journey: New isotopic science