Why did the mammoths die out?

Researching  the extinction of large mammals or megafauna 

Mammoths and many other megafauna disappeared at or around the end of the last ice age. Museum scientists are working to understand the timing and causes of these extinctions.

Scientists are mapping the changing and shrinking distributions of ice-age mammals such as the woolly mammoth and woolly rhinoceros, and comparing this with known patterns of vegetational change and the spread of modern humans.

Giant deer were thought to have become extinct about 12,000 years ago, but radiocarbon dating of fossils has shown that they survived until 8,000 years ago, well into the present interglacial period. A partial skeleton that has been in the Museum’s collections for over 100 years was the last giant deer currently known.

A collaboration with colleagues at Royal Holloway to extract and analyse ancient DNA from fossil bones has also shown that the closest living relative of the giant deer is the fallow deer, and that the mammoth is most closely related to the Asian elephant.

Tackling modern problems

The Museum’s collections have great value for approaching current problems.

Investigating the interaction between the effects of climate change and the effects of human hunting and habitat destruction around the ice age has obvious implications for understanding the current threat of extinction posed by similar problems.