Of Mastodons, Mammoths
and Other Giants of the Pleistocene
of a Mastodon.
During the Pleistocene Epoch, from about 1.5
million to 10,000 years ago, the world grew cold. Great sheets
of ice, sometimes a thousand feet thick, moved down from the
north gouging out the land. These harsh conditions seemed to
encourage the development of giant mammals (Probably because
larger animals are better at competing for scare resources like
food). Among them were the Mastodon, and the Mammoth.
Mastodons and Mammoths were closely related to
today's elephants. The Mastodon was slightly shorter than an
elephant, but more heavily built with upward curving tusks.
Mammoths ranged in size from a dwarfed form (6 foot high) up
to the Imperial mammoth that stood 14 feet high at the shoulder.
Mammoth tusks curved downward. Both were covered in thick yellow-brown
or reddish brown hair. These animals were vegetarians and probably
feed primarily on leaves.
were just slightly shorter than an elephants, but more
Both the mastodon and the mammoth were hunted
by humans and this may have contributed to their disappearance
after the end of the ice age. Ken's hole, a cavern near Torquay,
Devonshire, England, shows evidence it was home to early hunters.
Examination of the bones there suggest these men and women must
have been successful at hunting mammoth and other now extinct
Other Pleistocene creatures include the Gigantopithecus,
a huge ape larger that current gorillas. Glyptodon, a
giant armadillo-like animal, that had a shell some five feet
in length, not including the animal's head or war club-like
spiked tail it used for defense. Camelops, as the name
implies, was an oversized camel that lived in North America.
The Irish Elk, Megaloceros, was larger than any existing
deer and had antlers that spread 13 feet across. There was also
a rhinoceros, or Elasmotherium, that had a six foot long
spear for its central horn.
Predators of the Pleistoncene included the Dire
Wolf, Canis dirus, which was larger than current wolves,
but the most famous predators were the Saber-toothed cats. Some
were capable of hunting and killing even the largest Pleistoncene
games like the mammoth.
One of the strangest creatures of the Pleistocene
was the Megatherium, or Giant Sloth.
They were huge relatives of today's tree sloth. Tree sloths
are small, sleep creatures that seem to move in slow motion.
They spend much of there life hanging upside down from a branch.
Megatherium, in contrast, spent his life on the ground
and used his size to reach up to eat in the trees.
Earlier in the century speculation ran high that
in some remote corner of the world like Alaska or Siberia, mastodons
or mammoths might still be found alive. They have not been.
What has been found, though, are the carcasses of mammoths that
were trapped in ice crevasses and kept frozen over the last
30,000 years. So well preserved were these animals that their
meat was still edible. Other Pleistoncene animals not found
in ice were fossilized in tar pits.
We know that the dwarf branch of mammoths survived
on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Sea north of Siberia until just
4,000 years ago. About the same time the pyramids were being
raised in Egypt, the last mammoth died.
Or did it? Thirty-six hundred years later Cossack
Ermak Timofeyevich was traveling among tribes on the Eastern
side of the Ural mountains and heard stories about large hairy
elephants. The natives used these for food referring to them
by the name 'mountain of meat.'
More recently, in 1918, a story was told to the
French Consul in Vladivostok, Russia, by an elderly hunter about
how he tracked a huge animal for several days. When he caught
up with it he found it was "a huge elephant with big white tusks,
very curved. It was a dark chestnut color. It had fairly long
hair on the hind quarters, but it seemed shorter on the front.
I must say I had no idea that there were such big elephants."
Are there other giant creatures from the pleistoncene
hiding somewhere? There are stories of early European explorers
seeing elephant-like creatures in North America, but there is
apparently no proof. Ramon Lista, an
explorer, geographer and adventurer of Argentina in the late
1800's, was convinced that South American jungles hid surviving
giant sloths. He even claimed to have seen a gigantic armadillo,
but was unable to kill it and bring it back to display it to
civilization because his bullets just bounced off the monster's
Lee Krystek. All Rights Reserved.