Arthur Max/AP/File
Russian scientist Sergey Zimov's cat Cleopatra plays among mammoth tusks and the skulls of prehistoric horses in Zimov's home in Siberia, Oct. 29, 2010. Zimov believes mammoths, woolly rhinos, and other Ice Age animals became extinct after human hunters killed too many to maintain the delicate balance between the animals and the grasslands that fed them.

Did humans hunt this tiny mammoth to extinction?

The first humans in North America existed at the same time as California's mini mammoth, and may have caused their extinction, say scientists.

A research team from the National Parks Service and Bugbee's Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, S.D., working on the Channel Islands off the coast of California, discovered an intact – and surprisingly small – mammoth skull that they say offers clues both to the evolution of the Ice Age mammal and human migration into North America.

The US Geological Survey analyzed a charcoal sample found near the skull and dated it to 13,000 years old, which places the mammoth and the Arlington man, thought to be the oldest human remains in North America, on the same island at the same time.

“This mammoth find is extremely rare and of high scientific importance. It appears to have been on the Channel Islands at the nearly same time as humans,” said paleontologist Justin Wilkins in a statement. “I have seen a lot of mammoth skulls, and this is one of the best preserved I have ever seen.”

Elsewhere in the world, researchers have long known that human and mammoths coexisted and that humans hunted the giant mammals. In January, researchers in Siberia discovered 45,000-year-old mammoth remains with distinctive marks indicating that it had been killed by a hunter – once again tracking human migration through mammoths.

"There's a possibility the mammoths died out before humans arrived, and it's possible humans caused their extinction, hunted them to extinction," geologist Daniel Muhs of the US Geological Survey told CNN.

"But there's a third possibility that at the end of the last glacial period, mammoths could have been under stress with limited food resources with sea levels rising at the islands," he says. "Then the arrival of humans delivered the final blow."

A debate over whether humans caused the mammoths' extinction has been raging throughout the scientific community for years, and another finding of the two species in close proximity will only fuel the fire.

But separate from that debate, the discovery of the skull may shed new light on mammoth evolution. Despite its remarkably preservation, scientists were not able to classify the skull, being too large for a pygmy mammoth and too small for a Columbian mammoth.

The 14-foot Columbian mammoth migrated to North America 1.5 million years ago, and then to the Channel Islands during the past two ice ages. After the ice age ended, rising seas isolated the island population, which evolved into the 6-foot pygmy mammoth.

"This [skull discovery] opens the possibility that this mammoth was intermediate in size between the two species," Monica Bugbee, a member of the project, told CNN. "It could represent a transitional animal, somewhere on the way to becoming a completely dwarfed pygmy mammoth."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Did humans hunt this tiny mammoth to extinction?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today