The latest woolly mammoths ( Mammuthus primigenius Blumenbach) in Europe and Asia: a review of the current evidence
During the Last Cold Stage, woolly mammoths ranged very widely across Northern Eurasia into North America, but then disappeared as part of the global phenomenon of Late Quaternary megafaunal extinction. The timing and causes of this highly significant event have generated conflicting opinions and much debate. However, the overriding need is for more data, and recent years have seen the accumulation of significant new finds and radiocarbon dating evidence. In particular, research is currently focussing on the geographical pattern of extirpation leading to final extinction, rather than seeking a single 'last appearance datum'. This Viewpoint article was commissioned by the Editor-in-Chief and is published following the paper by Lõugas et al. (Dating the extinction of European mammoths: new evidence from Estonia. Quat. Sci. Rev. 21 (2002) 1347) to place their finding in a wider context. We give a brief review of the youngest directly dated mammoth remains from different regions of Eurasia, based both on published sources and on our own current research. This includes a very important new record from Cherepovets, North Russian Plain, which together with the new date from Puurmani, Estonia indicates the persistence of mammoth in this region close to the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary. These and other records suggest that the previous picture of mammoths widespread before 12,000 ka BP (uncalibrated radiocarbon years ago), then restricted to limited areas of northern Siberia, although correct in outline, has important exceptions which modify our understanding of mammoth extinction. Despite the many available radiocarbon dates for Eurasian mammoth relative to other extinct megafauna, it is apparent that much more work is needed. Only then can we adequately tackle the important question of the cause or causes of extinction, whether by climatic/environmental change or 'overkill' by human hunters.