The Story of the Elephant
by George Langford, Sr., Joliet, Illinois, after 1920 and prior to 1947
Edited and Copyrighted by George Langford, III, 2010
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XIV.
The Hairy Mammoth

Until this moment, no changes in elephantine progress have been recorded except in matters pertaining to the head.  Jaws lengthened and shortened, tusks and molar teeth underwent profound alterations, long snouts developed into trunks, and heads once long and low became short and high; but as far as body and limbs are concerned, little or nothing had been accomplished.  In the numerous families and species from the Long-jawed Trilophodon down to the finished Elephant, variations in body and limbs were of little consequence.  The Elephant since time immemorial was a head specialist.  The rest of him was simply a massive body mounted on pillar-shaped legs, perfectly satisfactory for his needs, and admitting of no improvements.  His feet had always been round and five-toed as far as known, but in the Hairy Mammoth there comes a change, rare and momentous, as in the case of the vaudeville slap-stick performer, who after eighteen years of thespian activity with no alteration of costume, finally changed the color of his whiskers from green to blue.  The Hairy Mammoth upset all elephant traditions by appearing minus one toe on each hind foot.  Mastodons, stegodons and all had ever possessed five, no more no less, and so this four-toed elephant was quite a novelty.  Facetious minds may suggest that the missing digit must have frozen and sloughed off, but the fact remains that this one individual, unlike all other elephants, had only four toes on each of his hind feet.

Of all prehistoric elephants, the Hairy, Arctic or Northern Mammoth,as he is variously termed, is the best known.  He is the one to whom the Tartar name Mammatu - the "Ground Dweller" - or Mammoth originally applied.  It was he whom the Siberian peasants considered as some form of giant mole, because he never appeared in life, although his bones and teeth were much in evidence.  Were we not already familiar with his family progress in Asia, we might think that the Mammoth originated somewhere within the Arctic Circle, for hie remains are very common there, from Siberia eastward into North America.  However this was simply another case of elephant adaptibility.  Apparently he was one of Asiatic origin, who wandered into Europe and made his home there.  At first he was doubtless only moderately covered with hair.  We are so used to seeing modern elephants tramping about in their thick-skinned nakedness that we have come to accept it as their natural state.  But this is mere presumption.  Living forever in mild or hot climates as they do, they probably have become bald. The Mammoth who visited Europe some sixty or seventy-five thousand years ago was in his natural state, moderately and modestly clad.

Instead of going by way of the Mediteranean land-bridge, he probably struck out northward and entered Russia.  He may have gone by way of Asia Minor, for in Pleistocene times another Elephant (Elephas Armenicus) very much like him, lived there.  The Mammoth went on and finally arrived in a region of broad, desolate tracts known as the tundras.  The available food was not particularly abundant nor to his liking, but having started, he was not the one to turn back, so he proceeded to make the best of it.  He accommodated his taste to what there was and by hustling about, managed to keep body and soul alive.  The air was cold and raw but this merely acted as a tonic.  It sharpened his appetite and coaxed the hair to growing out over his whole body.  The farther north he went, the more luxurious it became until it swept the snow.  We know all about this hair-length, texture and color - because it has been found and on the animal himself.  One of these beasts was discovered in 1799 near the Lena River in northern Siberia - frozen in ice and dirt and with hair, hide, and even flesh preserved.  The skeleton of this specimen is mounted in a museum at Petrograd and parts of the hide and hair are on exhibition nearby.  Another animal discovered at Bereskova in 1901, also had his outer covering more or less intact. From all this we know that the Mammoth wore an undershirt of short closely-packed wool overlain by dark, reddish-brown hair. Similar discoveries of prehistoric animals other than their bones are extreme rarities, and so our acquaintance with the Mammoth - hide, hair and all - becomes of an intimate nature.

Because of his cold-loving propensities, this animal has or has had some commercial value.  Large numbers of his bones have been found in northern Siberia, some of the tusks being in a fair state of preservation and saleable as second-rate ivory.  In times past, many of them were collected and shipped to England.  Over 40,000 animals were represented by these importations alone.

The Hairy Mammoth's molar tooth structure shows marked advance, as to grazing powers, over those of all other elephants, with the possible exception of our modern Indian species.  The plates are very thin and numerous and so closely packed together, that very little room is left for cement.  So close to each other lie the lines of enamel that the tooth-surface has the appearance of a fine-cut file.

Elephants had a weakness for Rhinoceri in olden times but one would not expect a rhinoceros to brave the hardships of the Arctic Circle for anybody, even an elephant.  But somehow or other, the Mammoth prevailed upon a  friend to go along and keep him company.  This friend (Rhinoceros Antiquitatus) had doubts about venturing so far north; nevertheless he let his wool and hair grow and marched bravely along.  We know considerable about his external appearance, having found a skeleton (1911) in eastern Galicia with some of the hide and hair left on it.

The word "friend" should not be taken too literally; "associate" would be better.  How intimate these two animals were, can only be imagined, but we do know that in the various Pleistocene deposits of western Europe, their bones and teeth are frequently found in close association, so frequently and so close, that we can only interpret it as expressing the interest these two animals may have had in each other when alive.  However, this association did not extend into Siberia.  Although a hardy animal, evidently travelling long distances was not to the Woolly Rhino's liking.  He ventured as far north as seemed to him advisable, and then he stopped.  The Mammoth went on alone, probably summering in the Arctic regions and returning southward to spend his winters with the Wooly Rhinoceros.  He has so frequently been portrayed as a colossus, that many people believe it, but he was not huge - from an elephant's standpoint - only nine feet six inches.  His long hair and grotesquely curved tusks, however, gave him a very distinguished appearance.  He had a pronounced shoulder-hump and a peaked forehead topped with shaggy hair, all very impressive, but he was not a colossus just the same.

Considering the hardships that the Hairy Mammoth was obliged to successfully negotiate in order to exist, something is to be expected of him in the way of special equipment.  Here his inborn power of adaptation was put to a severe test.  His long hair and underlying wool gave him warmth and shelter.  The hump upon his shoulders probably contained a store of fat which he could draw upon in cold. weather.  As for his diet, the fine character of his molar tooth surfaces have already been referred to.  Wiry grasses and hard tough substances were about the best to be had in bleak northern countries, and no better milling tool could have been provided for their mastication than the closely-packed mass of thin-enamelled plates composing the tooth of the Hairy Elephant.  The degree of development of his hair, shoulder-hump and teeth was of his own making, but their inception and the inborn power to use them to the best advantage must have been with him from the lay of his birth.

The Rhinoceros was a much smaller animal than his big friend.  He had a very rotund. body and short peg-legs.  His weight was therefore all concentrated behind his nose-horn - a formidable affair over two feet long.  It was sharp too, and with plenty of weight to drive it, the Woolly Rhinoceros could have punctured an iceberg, if he had a mind to.  A second horn was held in reserve behind the front one, but judging by its stubby appearance, Horn No. 2 was rarely required to perform.

As may be judged from all this, the Mammoth and Woolly Rhinoceros were a formidable pair, best left alone.  The Mammoth could not have been called upon to do much fighting; otherwise his tusks would not have curled around and overlapped so at the tips.  No doubt the two beasts were rarely molested and did about as they pleased.

Finally there came a change - the Third Glacial Epoch.  The great Scandanavian ice-fields began their southern glide, and the two beasts in company with other Arctic animals retreated south into Russia, then westward through Germany into France.  Here they encountered a bewildering array of four-footed life; natives refugees and adventurers from every quarter.  Gradually our two friends became accustomed to these strange faces and their strange surroundings.  They visited Paris, tramped over and around Berlin, marched south to Vienna, and then struck out for London by way of Calais and Dover.  The English Channel was dry in those days, the walking was good, and altogether the Mammoth and Woolly Rhinoceros must have had a wonderful time.

While the two were frolicking about in the north, the Straight-tusk and Broad-nosed Rhinoceros were sojourning in the south, for signs pointed to a renewal of glacial activities in Scandanavia, the Alps, Pyrenees and other high places.  The old-time Striped Hyena (Hyena Striata) was replaced by the modern Spotted Hyena (Hyena Crocuta) and the Giant Beaver (Trogontherium) by our own smaller rodent (Castor).  The Bison, Long-horned Ox, Stag and Irish Elk lived in Europe at this time, as did the Nordic Horce, forerunner of our modern draught animals.  The African Lion (Felis Leo) was also a European resident.  No one of these or any other beasts they met, were a match for either the Hairy Mammoth or Woolly Rhinoceros.  But the two cronies
were not to be forever permitted free and unrestricted lives.  There were certain uncanny creatures thinly populating central and western Europe; ones who stood upon their hind legs and used the front ones for fighting.  They bobbed up frequently and unexpectedly to throw rocks and pointed sticks at the two friends or laid low near hidden traps and pits which they had constructed for no good purpose.  It soon dawned upon the Mammoth and Rhinoceros that they were being persistently hunted by dangerous and resourceful enemies.  The idea angered them but sober reflection suggested caution, so they avoided the two-legged creatures when possible and kept more to themselves.

The Neanderthal Men, for such the creatures were, dressed their bodies in animal skins and lived in caves, where they built fires to warm themselves and cook the fruits of their hunting. Rudely fashioned flints and sticks were their weapons.  The Mammoth and Rhinoceros learned to respect the prowess of the Neanderthals but refused to run away and acknowledge themselves beaten.  Time went on and for about 25,000 years more, the two animals lived on in Europe and held their own.

This was the Fourth Glacial Epoch or beginning of the "Reindeer" Period when great herds of Reindeer were beginning to descend upon western Europe from the Arctic regions.  The Lion, Hyena and other flesh-eaters covered themselves with luxurious coats and became cave-dwellers like the Neanderthal Men, who were having a hard time of it keeping their stomachs full and their bodies warm.  The evidence, that men, cave-beasts, Mammoth, Rhinoceros and others lived contemporaneously, is abundantly portrayed in many localities scattered throughout western Europe.  In France, the Neanderthal Men are generally known as Mousterians.

The Fourth Glacial Epoch passed, and the change from disagreeable to pleasant weather brought the Hairy Mammoth and Woolly Rhinoceros new and more serious troubles.  A dark cloud arose in the eastern sky, a symbol of dread to the two friends, for it brought news of a strange human race whose prowess, no beasts could forever withstand.  The newcomers appeared by twos and threes at first but finally in hordes.  They were the Cro Magnons, whose advent marked Modern Man's first appearance in Europe.  The strangers were tall, long-limbed men, bold hunters and warriors.  They must have encountered the Neanderthals and exterminated them, for with their advent, the latter vanished.  This done, they turned their attention to other matters, for they possessed strange talents, other than those needed for hunting and fighting.  We call them the Old Stone Age (Palaeolithic) Greeks because they had artistic sense and could carve, draw or paint pictures upon the walls of their caves.  Flints served them for carving and engraving tools; powdered oxides and ochres mixed with grease were their pigments; and stone lamps furnished light for their work.  For some unknown reason; religious, ceremonial or otherwise, the figures which they carved, engraved and painted, were almost entirely of animals.  As might have been expected, their keen artistic sense would not quickly pass over such striking models as the Mammoth and Rhinoceros.  The Cro Magnons made many pictures of the two animals, some of which can be seen today on the walls of the Combarelles and Font de Gaume caves, of southwestern France.  An engraving of the Mammoth upon a slab of ivory was found at the foot of the Madeleine rock-shelter, once the home of Cro Magnon men.

But unfortunately these artists had appetites and were not above hunting their models for food, so the Hairy Mammoth and Woolly Rhinoceros suffered among others.  The Cro Magnons were more numerous than the Neanderthals had been, also better armed, and before long the two animals found western Europe unendurable.  The Woolly Rhinoceros, being the less venturesome of the pair, probably ended his days somewhere in Europe, but the Hairy Mammoth may have proceeded further, for his bones and teeth are very common in North America from Alaska southeastward into the United States, the entire breadth of the latter and as far south as the city of Washington.  Therefore, in spite of his European and Siberian experiences, North America has equal claim upon him.  Probably he was a circum-polar animal who had free access to the northern portions of Asia, Europe and North America and made himself at home in all of them, paying no attention to geographical boundaries.  His remains are very plentiful in Alaska, and one discovery made in 1908 parallels, to some extent, those of northern Siberia where, not merely the bones, but hide and hair of the animals were preserved.  This was on the south side of Eschscholtz Bay in blue clay of the late Pleistocene, and the Mammoth remains were so perfectly sealed up that some of the skin and hair was intact.  

This animal, like those of Siberia, was of modest stature, a condition due no doubt to environment, for the beast may be compared to a tropical plant moved to a north temperate or frigid climate.  Although inured to the change and become hardy, it would never attain such growth as in its native home and would become stunted.  This was probably the Hairy Mammoth's experience.  He lived amid surroundings that no other elephant would have chosen and dwindled in size.  No rhinoceros ever visited North America during the Pleistocene period, and the Mammoth must have missed his woolly European friend, but there were many others to keep him company: the Musk Ox, Walrus and Caribou among Arctic animals; the Horse and several species of Bison representing plains-dwellers; the Mountain Goat and Big Horn Sheep of the high altitudes; and finally forest-dwellers such as the Moose, Bear, Beaver, Wolf and American Mastodon.  Remains of all these creatures, and more too, have been unearthed in Alaska; and bones of the Hairy Mammoth were among them.

On the eastern side of North America in the Province of Ontario, Canada are deposits known to be of Post-glacial age - comparatively recent times, and here the Hairy Mammoth is found in association with the Caribou, Elk, Beaver and American 'Mastodon.

Nothing has yet been discovered which would indicate that the Hairy Elephant ever came in contact with human beings on the North American continent.  In one instance, such an association was presumed to have occurred at Afton, Oklahoma in a sulphur spring where remains of the Hairy Mammoth, American Mastodon, also bones of extinct bison and horses, were found together with flint arrowheads and other implements.  This apparent association of human beings and elephants however is explained as an instance where Indians, discovering the bones in the deposit, worshipped them as remains of their ancestors and cast flint implements into the spring as votive offerings.

Where the Hairy Mammoth began and ended is a matter for dispute, but it is a certainty that he appeared in Siberia, Europe and North America, when the Pleistocene period was well advanced and disappeared during or before the Post-glacial Epoch, which preceded our modern historical times.  Not the gigantic monster he is so often pictured but a plain hard-working elephant transplanted from his warm southern home into remote and frigid soil; such was the Hairy Mammoth.  The marvel is that he could endure the change for so long a time and the only explanation to be made is that he was an elephant, one in whom the inborn power to adapt himself and adjust his manner of living to his surroundings, was present to an extraordinary degree.

[from the original, typewritten draft with hand-written corrections - GL,III, ed.]
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