0 Contents 2 Background 2.4 Culture 2.4.1 Origins 

 Sailing Mammoth bone homes

1 Mammoth bone homes.
   1.1 Mammoth Camp
1.2 Secrets of the Ice Age
   1.3 Mezhirich location
   1.4 Reconstruction of mammoth bone structures.

2 Mammoth Facts
    2.1 Mammoth Origin And Evolution 
    2.2 What Is Our Knowledge Of 
                Mammoths Is Based On?
   2.3 Geology 
   2.4 Climate Habitat
   2.5 How Did They Survive The Cold?
   2.6 Comparing 
   2.7 Extinction Of Mammoths 
                By 11,000 Years Ago
3 What killed the woolly mammoth?

1 Mammoth bone homes

Mammoth Camp - Mezhirich
 Photo: K. Sklenar, 'Hunters of the Stone Age'

Painting in red on the front of mammoth skull found at the entrance to one of the huts at the mammoth hunter's settlement at Mezhirich in the former Soviet Union. It is thought that the red design may represent the flames and sparks of a fire.

I believe that the markings represent a map of the rivers they used to float the heavy body parts home and the dots may represent kills!

Diorama of a bone hut at Mezhirich
Photo: Wally Gobetz, from a diorama display at the American Museum of Natural History, online at http://archaeology.about.com

Mammoth bone homes gave us knowledge of how Europeans were feeding on the Mammoths in pre-historic times (allegorically "in the garden of Eden").

1.1 Mezhirich / Mezhyrich / Межиріч - Mammoth Camp

From: http://donsmaps.com/mammothcamp.html

At Mezhirich in 1965, a farmer dug up the lower jawbone of a mammoth while in the process of expanding his cellar. Further excavations revealed the presence of four huts, made up of a total of 149 mammoth bones. These dwellings, dating back some 15,000 years, were determined to have been some of the oldest shelters known to have been constructed by pre-historic man. Mezhirich or Mezhyrich or Межиріч, is a village in central Ukraine near the point where the Rosava River flows into the Ros.

(text above adapted from Wikipedia)

1.2 Secrets of the Ice Age

The early prehistorians of the last century were understandably concerned with establishing the order and sequence of their materials, since no means of exact dating existed to help them. They often sank narrow pits down through the deposit with the sole object of establishing which tools came from which layer, thereby forming a picture of technical changes from one age to the next. These studies are still important but leave unanswered many questions about the kind of society to which the toolmakers belonged. Much broader information is obtained today, not just by digging downward, but by digging outward, or horizontally, at the same time. If the conditions of preservation are favorable, the archaeologist traces and follows the original floor on which the prehistoric inhabitants walked, hoping to expose the remains of hearths and wooden structures. Each layer is successively peeled off over as wide an area as possible. The patterns of flint and bone debris scattered across each floor can give important clues to the particular types of activities that were once carried on there.

The change from narrow pits to broad exposures was an innovation not of the French but of the Russians. In the early years of this century, Russian archaeologists first began encountering thick concentrations of animal bones on the terraces of such great Ukrainian rivers as the Dniester and the Don. Pits sunk here and there could make no sense of the dense bone heaps, but as soon as the remains were opened up horizontally over a broad area, the picture came clear. The bones once formed the foundations and frameworks.of houses built when wood was scarce and the shelter of caves unavailable. Since the late 1920s, such bone houses have been found in considerable numbers, often clustered together in little "villages" of four or five houses in the fertile valleys of the Ukraine- The same method of construction has appeared as far west as Kracow, in Poland, where recent excavations in the city center revealed three rings of mammoth bones exactly similar to those in Russia and dating to about 20 000 years ago.

Some of these bone buildings were remarkable structures in their time. One of the most intricate was discovered in 1965 at a place called Mezherich, near Kiev in the Ukraine. A farmer, digging his cellar, almost two meters below ground level, struck the massive lower jaw of a mammoth with his spade. The jawbone was upside down, and had been inserted into the bottom of another jaw like a child's building brick. In fact, as subsequent excavation showed, a complete ring of these inverted interlocking jaws formed the solid base of a roughly circular hut four or five meters across. About three dozen huge, curving mammoth tusks had been used as arching supports for the roof and for the porch, some of them still left in their sockets in the skulls. Separate lengths of tusks were even linked in laces by a hollow sleeve of ivory that fitted over the join. It has been stimated that the total of bones incorporated in the structure must have belonged to a minimum of ninety-five mammoths. This need ,not be a measure of some prodigious hunting feat, since gnawing marks of carnivores suggest that many of them were scavenged. However, the task of dragging the enormous skulls across country should not be underestimated since a-small one weighed about one hundred kilograms. It is likely that this extremely solid framework, when completed, was covered with hides just like the skin and whalebone huts built by Siberian coastal hunters during the nineteenth century.

Inside the Mezherich building, there were some remarkable finds: amber ornaments and fossil shells, transported an estimated 350 to 500 kilometres from their source, and the remains of one of the earliest percussion instruments ever found. The "drum" consisted of a mammoth skull set at the entrance porch and painted with a pattern of red ocher dots and lines. The top of this skull bears depressions where it seems to have been beaten by "drumsticks," the animal long bones that were found to bear corresponding damage on their ends. It is possible that the building may have served some ritual or communal function at which the mammoth bone rhythms were beaten out, although many Ukrainian huts of a similar size seem to have been ordinary living places.

In the far west, there was simply no need for such solid structures because shelter was provided by limestone overhangs and cave mouths. Nevertheless, the same principles of excavation pioneered in Russia have revealed traces of "interior design" at a number of cave sites, such as the remains of wooden partitions and lean-to structures that would have helped to exclude cold and damp. In addition, temporary open-air camps are being discovered in increasing numbers in western Europe. Several of these appear to be summertime halts occupied by small groups of hunters who may have joined up with larger groups to live in the shelter of caves during the winter. At the most thoroughly investigated of all these camps, situated at Pincevent in the Seine valley, a meticulous attention to detail allowed the excavator to reconstruct the outlines of three light skin tents occupied by a small summer band of reindeer hunters. Although no wooden or bone foundations had survived, the shape of the structures was revealed partly by the pattern of flint flakes struck off by toolmakers inside the tents. The paths traced by some of the flakes had clearly been interrupted by the hide walls.

Text above: 'Secrets of the Ice Age' by E. Hadingham

1.3 Mezhirich location.

Mammoth Camp - Mezhirich

Bone needle with an ornamental head, probably used to fasten garments, found at the Mezhirich site.
Photo: K. Sklenar, 'Hunters of the Stone Age'

Mezhirich location
Mezhirich location. View towards the site and the Ros and Rosava floodplain. Arrow indicates site location. Photo: O.Soffer, 'The Upper Paleolithic of the Central Russian Plain'

vegetation zones

Vegetation Zones of the Ukraine at the height of the last glacial

Photo: After Klein, R.G. Mousterian cultures in European Russia.
Science, 165, pp. 257-65

This site dates from about 15 000 bp.

Location: 49 deg 38' N, 31 deg 24'E
Located on a North facing promontory overlooking the valleys of the Ros and Rosava Rivers at their junction.


Discovered (1965) as with many other similar sites in the Ukraine when a farmer began excavating a cellar a short distance from his front door. Excavated originally by I.G. Pidoplichko. Recent research (Sarah Mason at: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/archaeology/research/profiles/smason/smmezher.htm) indicates that there is a significant quantity of wood charcoal at the Mezhirich site, which is surprising when you consider that most researchers have assumed that the area was essentially treeless. The wood charcoal could perhaps have come from small woody shrubs.

S. Mason has also found tap root material from the compositae family, which includes daisies and dandelions, at Dolni Vestonice. These roots are often quite edible. See http://www.ucl.ac.uk/archaeology/research/profiles/smason/smdolnv.htm

A useful book may be:
Pidoplichko, I. H. Upper Palaeolithic dwellings of mammoth bones in the Ukraine: Kiev-Kirillovskii, Gontsy, Dobranichevka, Mezin and Mezhirich. Oxford: J. and E. Hedges, 1998. 276 p. University Museum Library GN414.3.B64 P53 1998

1.4 Reconstruction of mammoth bone structures.

Mezhirich reconstruction
Mezhirich reconstruction

This is a reconstruction of one of the mammoth bone structures (Dwelling 1) at Mezhirich

Photo: A Gregorovich,

Mezhiric bone house
Mammoth bones used to recreate a building of the ice ages.

Photo: Sasha Desyaterik, http://archaeologyofmyth.com/expeditions/

Source: Display at the Natural History Museum of Kiev.

Mezhiric bone house
Click on the image to see a panorama of the inside of the mammoth bone house, which you can explore by clicking and dragging your mouse across the image, up, down, left and right.

Photo/panorama: Natural History Museum of Kiev, http://museumkiev.org/

mammoth bone hut
A dwelling in Mezhirich is made of mammoth bones partially supported by a wooden frame. Hides lining the hut serve as insulation.

Source: Display, Dolní Věstonice Museum

Text: Translated and adapted from the display.

Mezhiric bone house
Mammoth bones used in the construction of an ancient dwelling, clearly numbered and photographed for later assembly, Mezhirich in the Ukraine.

Source: Photograph on display, Dolní Věstonice Museum, Czech Republic

Mezhirich base of a hut
Mezhirich excavation of a hut

Photo: J. Jelinek, 'The Evolution of Man'

Mezhirich reconstruction Dwelling 1 - front
Mezhirich reconstruction Dwelling 1 - front

This reconstruction is in the Kiev Museum of Paleontology

Photo: O.Soffer, 'The Upper Paleolithic of the Central Russian Plain'

Mezhirich reconstruction Dwelling 1 - back

Mezhirich reconstruction Dwelling 1 - back

Mezhirich reconstruction Dwelling 1 - back
This reconstruction is in the Kiev Museum of Paleontology
Just the bones for each dwelling weighed about 20 tonnes, (around 20 000 kg or 45 000 pounds) and around 900 kg (almost one tonne, around 2 000 pounds) of Mammoth bone was used per square metre of floor space.
Photo (left): O.Soffer, 'The Upper Paleolithic of the Central Russian Plain' (right) http://vivovoco.rsl.ru/VV/JOURNAL/NATURE/03_03/PALEORUS.HTM

mammoth bone huts Reconstruction of a hut built of mammoth bones and hides in the Ukraine near Kiev. Painting by M. Wilson

Photo: Man before history by John Waechter

mammoth hut door Door to a mammoth bone hut at the National Science Museum in Tokyo. This reconstruction appears based on the Mezhirich discoveries. Photo: Jerrers

mammoth hut door Mammoth bone hut at the National Science Museum in Tokyo. This reconstruction appears based on the Mezhirich discoveries. Photo: Jerrers


Mezhirich Excavation Plan
Mezhirich Excavation Plan

Figure 2.61 Mezhirich excavation plan: 1, 1966 excavation-Dwelling 1; 2, 1969-1970 excavation-Dwelling 2; 3, 1972 excavation-Dwelling 3; 4, 1974 excavation- Dwelling 4; 5, 1976 excavation; 6, 1978-1983 excavation; 7, hearths; 8, dwellings; 9, storage pits.

Photo: O.Soffer, 'The Upper Paleolithic of the Central Russian Plain'

Mezhirich Dwelling 1
Mezhirich Dwelling 1

1, mammoth bones; 2, hearths and ash lenses; 3, bone charcoal; 4, worked bone; 5, marine shells; 6, reindeer antlers; excavation grid = 2 x 2 m

Photo: O.Soffer, 'The Upper Paleolithic of the Central Russian Plain'

mammoth hut

Another version of the diagram above.

Hoffecker (2002)

Mezhirich Dwelling 2
Mezhirich Dwelling 2

1, bones; 2, bone charcoal; 3, hearths; 4, work areas near hearths; excavation grid = 2 x 2 m

Photo: O.Soffer, 'The Upper Paleolithic of the Central Russian Plain'

Mezhirich Dwelling 3
Mezhirich Dwelling 3

1, mammoth bones; 2, bone charcoal; 3, hearths; 4, work areas near hearths and storage pit; excavation grid = 2 x 2 m

Photo: O.Soffer, 'The Upper Paleolithic of the Central Russian Plain'

Mezhirich Dwelling 4
Mezhirich Dwelling 4

Photo: O.Soffer, 'The Upper Paleolithic of the Central Russian Plain'

Mezhirich Dwelling 4
ch Dwelling 4 Excavation, 1979 season

Photo: O.Soffer, 'The Upper Paleolithic of the Central Russian Plain'


It is my understanding that this archaeological site at Mezhirich, Dwelling 4, is now protected by a metal roof.

Mezhirich Cross Section

Mezhirich Cross Section
Left: Mezhirich location: 1, contemporary structures (houses etc) 2, bore holes.

Right: Mezhirich Cross Section: 1, soil; 2, loess, loess-like loam; 3, colluvium; 4, alluvium; 5, relic stratified alluvium; 6, Paleogene deposits; 7, Kharkov sand; 8, Poltava sand; 9, clay; 10, cultural remains; 11, isolated small granite boulders; 12, isolated pieces of silica pebble and siliceous chips; 13, shells, fresh water molluscs; 14, burrows
Photo: O.Soffer, 'The Upper Paleolithic of the Central Russian Plain'


  1. Hoffecker J., 2002: Desolate landscapes: Ice-Age settlement in Eastern Europe, Rutgers University Press

2 Mammoth Facts( http://www.principia.edu/mammoth/mammothfacts.htm )

From Mammoths by Dr. Larry D. Agenbroad and Lisa Nelson. Copyright 2002 Lerner Publications Company, a division of Lerner Publishing Group, 241First Avenue North, Minneapolis, MN 55401. Used by permission. All rights reserved

Mammoth Facts Handout


Order Proboscidea (includes all elephants)

Mammoths are NOT closely related to mastodons.

Mammoths are NOT the ancestors of the modern elephant.

Elephantids split into 3 main groups (making them like first cousins) ~3-5 mya

Mammoths occurred originally in Africa
Then moved north into Europe and Asia
Steppe mammoth evolved into woolly mammoth

Woolly mammoth traveled into North America via the land bridge (Central Beringia) ~1.8 mya

Ancestral mammoth traveled into North America and evolved into Columbian mammoth

2.2 What is Our knowledge of mammoths is based on?

Our knowledge of mammoths is based on the fossil record and our knowledge of modern elephants


Woolly Mammoth - Mammuthus primigenius
Jefferson's Mammoth - Mammuthus jeffersonii

Male, based on tusks

M3 molars from upper jaw of the Principia mammoth (note damage from backhoe)

The bluffs above the Mississippi River at Principia with tall grasses and a sprinkle of snow - a sight similar to what our mammoth would have experienced during the Ice Age (remove the trees)

  • Large tusks (massive; ~6.5 ft long)

    Mature, based on teeth

  • 39-43 years old in African Elephant Years

  • M3 molars - # of plates tell us his age

  • Amount of wear on molars refines his age

  • Flat molars for grinding grass

  • 10.8 feet tall at shoulder (3 times the length of the humerus)

  • Ate ~300 pounds of vegetation a day

  • Weighed ~ 6 tons

  • Head is 12-25% of body weight -->short neck --> long nose to reach ground

  • 2.3 GEOLOGY

    Buried in wind-blown silt (loess)


    Ice Age

    Climate - cold, windy at times (dust storms)
    Habitat - tundra-like steppe environment, grassland

    2.5 How Did They Survive the Cold?

    • Hairy coat - 3 layers
    • Outer guard hairs - coarse, 3’ long in places
    • Underfur - thinner, shorter, 10-12" long
    • Thick layer of wool next to skin - 1-3" long
    • ~4" of fat beneath its skin to insulate it
    • Small ears and short tail (less heat loss)

    "Mammoths" by Dr. Larry D. Agenbroad. Copyright 1998, Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, SD, Inc., Box 692 Hot Springs, SD 57747. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


    Ancestral mammoth (Mammuthus meridionalis)

    13’ tall - lived in warm tropical forests - died out as climate cooled

    Steppe mammoth (Mammuthus trogontherii)

    14’ tall - became extinct

    Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi)

    13’ tall, weighed 10 tons - low-latitude temperate grasslands - large ears

    Woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius)

    11’ tall, weighed 6-8 tons - cold arctic steppe (grassland) - head high-crowned - grazer

    Jefferson's mammoth ( Mammuthus jeffersonii )
    Intermediate between Columbian and Woolly

    Mastodon (Mammut americanum) (not a mammoth)

    Compare the woolly mammoth tooth (left) with that of the mastodon (display at Mastodon State Park, Missouri)

    shorter, stockier - 8-10’ tall - head more sloped - teeth had pointed ridges/cones à browser
    ate branches, twigs, leaves, roots, melons

    African elephant (Loxodonta africana)

    10’ tall, weighs 6 tons (up to 11 tons) - big ears shaped like Africa - no domes on head
    back dips in the middle - longer legs than Asian elephant - teeth like mammoth - flat

    Asian elephant (Elephas maximus)

    shorter, weighs 5 tons - smaller ears
    double domes on head - rounded or hump-shaped back


    Four theories:

    1. Dramatic climate change that affected vegetation patterns and hence, food source

    2. Over-hunting by humans

    3. New diseases introduced by animals and humans crossing on the land bridge from Siberia - no direct evidence exists to support this

    4. Meteorite impact

    Many scientists believe that it was a combination of the first two theories - climate and humans - that caused the extinction of mammoths and many other large mammals by around 11,000 years ago.

    3 What killed the woolly mammoth?

    Woolly mammoth
    Image courtesy of Mauricio Anton; image source: Wikimedia commons

    Published in Science in School (http://www.scienceinschool.org)

    The authors’ findings suggest that mammoths experienced a catastrophic loss of habitat: as the last glaciers retreated and the planet warmed, 90% of the animals’ former habitat disappeared. Prime mammoth habitat progressively shrank from 7.7 million square kilometres 42 000 years ago (in the midst of the last glacial advance) until just 0.8 million square kilometres remained 6000 years ago. The animals were restricted to isolated tracts spotted across Eurasia and tiny patches squeezed up against the northern coastal edges.

    Although the near obliteration of their habitat would have placed great pressure on the species, the situation appeared even more dire during the previous glacial retreat 126 000 years ago, when only 0.3 million square kilometres of prime habitat existed. At that time, the species probably teetered on the brink of extinction, as geographically isolated groups experienced declines in genetic diversity and fitness. Even so, the mammoths had managed to survive that crucible. What was different about the Holocene? The remaining mammoth herds faced a foe that hadn’t existed 126 000 years ago: human hunters.

    Woolly mammoths were driven to extinction by climate change and humans
    Image courtesy of Mauricio Anton; image source: Wikimedia commons

    Humans evolved to their modern form during the Pleistocene and migrated north with the final retreat of the glaciers, hunting mammoths as they advanced. By the middle of the Holocene, mammoth populations were so vulnerable that it would not have taken much hunting pressure to push them to extinction. The authors’ most optimistic estimates of mammoth population size and density suggest that if each human killed just one mammoth every three years, the species would become extinct. More pessimistic estimates suggest that the loss of as few as one mammoth every 200 years (per human in its territory) might have sealed the animals’ fate.

    Other evidence may yet be uncovered that would support the authors’ contention that mammoth populations made vulnerable by climate change were finished off by human hunting. For example, the authors’ habitat models suggest new areas on the Eurasian continent where mammoth fossils may be found. Expeditions to these locations could determine whether mammoth populations lived there, and provide more evidence to help researchers continue the shift from qualitative to quantitative interpretations of the data.

    This article was first published in PLoS Biology and is reproduced with kind permission.


    These references are freely available online.

    Gross L (2006) Reading the evolutionary history of the woolly mammoth in its mitochondrial genome. PLoS Biology 4(3): e74. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0040074

    Nogués-Bravo D et al (2008) Climate change, humans, and the extinction of the woolly mammoth. PLoS Biology 6(4): e79. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060079

    Web references

    w1 – For details of the film Ice Age, see the Internet Movie Database: www.imdb.com/title/tt0268380


    For more accurate accounts of the decline of mammoth populations than is provided in the film Ice Age, see two BBC TV documentaries: Both are available on DVD.

    1. The last episode of Walking with Cavemen. See the Internet Movie Database:
    www.imdb.com/title/tt0370053 and the BBC website: www.bbc.co.uk/sn/prehistoric_life/tv_radio/wwcavemen
    2. Walking with Beasts. See the Internet Movie Database: www.imdb.com/title/tt0286285 and the BBC website:

    3. A very good BBC Radio 4 programme on the fate of mammoths can be heard online. See:

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