Posted in Elephants, Extinction, Mammoths, Mastodons, Nature, Pleistocene

Mammoth Dreams

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Rouffignal – The Cave of a Hundred Mammoths, France

I live at the edge of the continent, where an elbow of the world’s largest ocean juts into the far western side of North America, where ocean is trying to become land and land ocean. I live where elephants once roamed, where mastodons and mammoths ranged the southern edge of ice sheets.

They lived, literally, in my back yard. Thirty years ago mammoth bones and teeth eroded from the cliff just a half mile from my house.

Last night I had a dream, born, I guess, from the days when I lived in Seattle. As if my clock radio had gone off, I heard the voice of a male announcer in my ear.

Traffic Alert! The 520 bridge is slow, slow, slow this morning. Mammoths are beginning their annual migration from the Cascade Corridor into the Arboretum for salal berries! Let’s take a look at the traffic cams. Yep, cars are really creeping, trying to get a look, as the mammoths cross the Wildlife Bridge at Montlake. And now we’ve got reports of a couple of herds at the beach near the old Pier 51 site.

 Female voice: Wow, Clark, look . . .at. . .that! Ferry commuters are gonna get a great view from Coleman Dock. Isn’t that something!

 Male voice: Well, that’s the latest traffic update. Expect major delays into downtown this morning. Now, back to our top story . . .

 It’s dark, 4 a.m., and I awaken laughing and crying, wondering where dreams come from. Wondering if I’ve imagined an alternative present where mammoths and mastodons still migrate through our daily routines, safe from the closed door of extinction. Wondering what I would see if I rose in my dream and looked out my window: mammoths in the grass, in the moonlight, plucking the heads of dandelions one by one, mastodons stripping the bark of the cedar tree in my neighbor’s back yard. Elephant ghosts reclaiming their land.

Posted in Extinction, Mammoths, Pleistocene

Under the Cold, Unblinking Animal Eyes of the Night Sky

Photograph by Cheryl Merrill
Photograph by Cheryl Merrill

In 1898, on the central coast of British Columbia, Franz Boas recorded oral beliefs of the Heiltsuk tribe. Their creation stories told of a world made of water and ice and a narrow strip of shoreline. The oral history of the Heiltsuk stated that their peoples settled the central coastal area “before the great flood,” which may refer to the rising sea levels as ice sheets further inland melted.

The First People of North America spread up rivers and along the Rocky Mountain foothills, out into the Great Plains and on to the Atlantic seaboard as the glaciers melted. Twelve thousand years ago, a band of humans travelling the steppes of what would become the state of South Dakota, might have witnessed something like this:

 

To the north are huge, receding remnants of the Pleistocene glaciation. But here it is spring, and the valley below them bursts with sedge, Arctic sagebrush, dwarf willows, buttercups, daisies and new shoots of grass.   A braided river born from ice meanders south, glistening under a rising sun.

In the distance immense clouds pile behind a series of small, rolling hills. The clouds groan, rumble and rain fingers the earth. A rainbow arcs, glistens, and fades.

Up and over the nearest hill strides a Columbian mammoth, and then another and another, until the horizon holds thousands of them in parallel lines, headed in a single, purposeful direction. It’s the spring migration, following a route used for generations.

The humans squat, clothed in the skins of llama and deer, rabbit and fox. They watch as the mammoths fill the basin below them. They watch interrelated family units greet each other joyously, trumpeting, bellowing and intertwining trunks. The air shivers as mothers rumble reassurance to their offspring. The circles of kinship within the mammoth families include aunts and grandmothers, uncles and grandfathers, whose experiences carry the entire library of mammoth knowledge.

A young calf with wild eyes and a swinging trunk veers out of the herd and toward the humans, stops, lifts a foot, raises her chin, then rips out a clump of grass and throws it over her back. As a self-appointed guardian for her family, she’s young enough to be uncertain and old enough to be full of herself.

Satisfied with her display, festooned with wisps of grass, she rejoins her family. A sibling tugs at her fur, liberates a stalk of grass and waves it around like a magic wand.   Her mother, the matriarch, is constantly alert to the humans, her awareness evident by an uplifted trunk smelling in their direction.

The humans keep an eye on her. They know what she’s capable of if they threaten the herds. They watch and wait, scanning the valley, smelling sweet grass crushed between thousands of massive molars.

On a distant hill a solitary male mammoth flips over shocks of grass, searching for new growth. He’s an oddly dainty monster, with a squashed, flattened face and a tall head dome. The skirt of hair across his flanks and under his belly ripples in the breeze. His fur coat is three feet long, his feet covered with six inches of hair. Around his neck and under his chin, is a dark-colored beard, a feature often depicted by Ice Age artists.

photograph by Cheryl Merrill
photograph by Cheryl Merrill

The humans communicate with silent glances at each other, recognizing the woolly mammoth is old and slowed by age. They are not surprised when he is surrounded by a pride of American lions, Panthera leo atrox, a species 25% larger than today’s African lions. Timing and opportunity are gifts to all predators.

The lions surround the mammoth as he stands his ground, whirling in circles, brandishing his tusks. The more agile lions slice in and out of the fray and finally succeed in hamstringing the bull, severing the tendons of both back legs. A long time later, the mammoth goes down. The lions eat their fill and spend most of the afternoon upside-down, napping. The humans settle for a long wait. Often lions will defend prey this size for days on end.

But humans aren’t the only hunters following the herds, waiting for opportunity. Other scavengers are drawn to the kill. Circling in a slow funnel of doom, paratroops of vultures spiral down, down, down and muster on the ground in untidy rows. A group of Condors, slump-shouldered and patient undertakers, perch on a jumble of nearby rocks.

At the first hint of blood on the breeze, Arctodus simus, the Giant Short-faced Bear, stands upright on his two back legs, sniffing for the direction of its source. The biggest bear ever – twice the size of a grizzly – he is 11 feet tall when upright. Like all bears, he is also an opportunistic carnivore. With olfactory organs larger than those of any other bear, he locates the lion kill quickly and strides toward it at a graceful, rapid pace, moving in the same way a horse paces, the legs on a side moving forward together. He does not waddle like modern bears. He charges up the hill, roaring. The lions give way to the largest land predator of the Pleistocene, intimidated by his size. They are unwilling to risk injury from his strong jaws and their ability to crush bones with a single bite.

The humans stay put and let the bear eat. They too are intimidated. Even when standing on all four legs, Arctodus simus is seven feet tall, able to look any man directly in the eye.

photograph by Cheryl Merrill
photograph by Cheryl Merrill

Toward dusk, when the bear shows no signs of moving on, the humans concoct a plan. They gather stones, large stones, and ferry them within throwing range. The bear stands erect each time the humans edge closer, but is glutted, lethargic, and does not charge them. The humans spread into a half-circle, each one next to a pile of stones, and with a single nod, begin to throw as fast as they can. Surprised, furious, the bear charges in one direction, only to be hit from another. Before their piles of stones diminish, the humans have routed him. They are many and he is just one.

They build a ring of low, smoky sagebrush fires around the mammoth. They cut out his tongue and eat it raw. Fortified, they work through the night, scattering coyotes with well-timed stones. They carry a small arsenal of bone-tipped spears and arrows, but these are precious and not used unless it is absolutely necessary. Wolves, howl at a distance, pack-hunting under a full moon.

More than half the mammoth, the down side, is still left. One of the men separates an exposed shoulder blade from the rest of the skeleton and sharpens it by flaking away pieces of bone. At thirteen pounds, it’s a heavy tool. He uses both of his hands to chop at the carcass. He hacks at a lower leg, frees it, and and drags it to one side.

A woman uses a splintered tibia as a knife, shaves layers of fat from a disarticulated foot. She eats as she shaves, wipes blood and fat from her face with the palm of her hand, and pushes her hair from her eyes. It clumps in crests like greasy, matted feathers. She swats at the mosquitoes swarming around her, then rises and throws dried mammoth dung on the nearest fire. It smokes, repelling the small, persistent predators, a species so adaptable it will live on long after both mammoths and humans vanish from the earth.

Under the cold, unblinking animal eyes of the night sky, in a world lit only by a small circle of fires, the humans eat and butcher and sometimes sleep.

Posted in Elephants, Extinction, Mammoths, Mastodons, Nonfiction, Writing

The Great Ones

 

photograph by Cheryl Merrill

 

Outside my window shaggy shadows move among the firs. An immense shape assembles and disassembles in the wind.

Fourteen thousand years ago, mastodons and mammoths roamed North America, grazed alongside the buffalo. Paleolithic peoples followed the woolly giants across the Bering Bridge to lands as game-rich as the Serengeti. Projectile points can be found embedded in the bones of their prey.

But now the great ones are nearly everywhere gone.

Time twists as I stare out the window at the huge ghost facing me. A giant form conjured from a smear of rhododendrons and shadows lifts his trunk into the wind, changes back into a bush beast with flowers in his stomach, and is extinct once again.

 

Near a small, bog-rich pond, a pussy willow rattles pearl-gray catkins in the driving sleet. Ice coats the bare branches of a soopolallie growing at the water’s edge, frozen red berries clinging to their stems. Upslope from the pond, in a brushy part of the tundra, a herd of elk seeks shelter from the spring squall. Higher still, the mountains are sheathed in glacial ice.

The temperature drops and the sky clears. When night falls curtains of light shimmer in the north, an aurora rippling in solar winds. Oxygen atoms bombarded by geomagnetic storms turn the whole hemisphere red. Glazed with the colors of fire, the pond flickers and burns throughout the night.

A muskrat surfaces and swims towards her burrow. The legs of a frog dangle and twitch from her mouth. The wake behind her broad tail sends ripples through the aurora’s reflection shimmering on the pond’s surface. The ripples pass through a black, four-legged silhouette in the middle of the pond. Looming over his own night shadow, an old mastodon bull curls his trunk into his mouth and releases cold clear water down his throat.

All day, during the icy storm, the mastodon browsed on sage, spirea, rosehips, frosted buttercups, wormwood and sedge as the wind left ice crystals in his eyelashes. He trudged across a marshland through sticky, hydrated clay, each footstep making a loud, sucking sound. Sunshine and snow, both opalescent, washed over him in waves.

All day long on the tall-grass prairie, through blowing clouds of sunshine and snow, he saw herds of equus and pricus, horses and bison, standing with heads lowered, their backs to the stinging wind. He saw a shaggy outline sweeping the tall grass clear with her curled tusks. Barely visible, a small calf nuzzled the fur between her front legs and suckled from a hidden breast.

Recognizing her high domed cranium and sloping profile, the mastodon did not cross the prairie to meet her, though he has seen her foraging at this place before. She is a mammoth and not of his low-browed kind.

At a gravel bar he crossed a crystalline river formed from glacial outmelt. A goose feather spiraled down from a migrating flock. His pace was slow and he often stopped, his trunk resting on the ground. An Arctic fox circled in behind him, veered away when he wheeled and held his huge tusks high.

Finally, in the middle of the night, he reached the pond and waded in.

Now he drinks and eats listlessly, pulls out hippuris, water plants with long tails and sweet green stems. The sky is clear, cold, and the blood-red aurora flames and dances over his head, wildfire in the sky. Cattails chatter in the wind.

He staggers toward the bank of the pond and into boggy mud – rich, black, and carnivorous. He touches his side, where the hole-that-hurts still bleeds. Mired, he closes his eyes, sways, falls.

Near dawn the two-legged hunters find him on his side, half in water, half out. They build a fire and settle to their work.

 

Fourteen thousand years later, in the summer of 1977, near the town of Sequim in Washington State, Emanuel Manis decided he wanted a duck pond in his front yard. His backhoe brought up a couple of blackish curved logs. His wife Clare thought they might be tusks and started making phone calls, eventually contacting Washington State University. The resulting excavation lasted eight years and attracted 50,000 visitors to the Manis farm.

In the loam of an ancient pond the archaeological dig found a mastodon. The left side of the skeleton was intact, all the bones in their correct anatomical position. The bones of the uppermost side, the right side, were scattered upslope from the pond and the mastodon’s shattered skull faced backwards, as if staring at its own remains. Many bones had scratches, indentations, rectangular gouges and sharp-edged cut marks – the type of fracturing done in large-scale butchering, butchery less like gutting a fish and more like chopping up a tree.

But the star of the excavation, the reason so many people journeyed to the Manis Mastodon site, was a fragment of rib that had a bone spear point embedded in it.

The first direct evidence that humans hunted mastodons.

Originally researchers thought the spear point was made of elk bone, but later analysis confirmed it was fashioned from another mastodon. It was sturdy enough to penetrate thick hide, ten inches of muscle, and three-fourths of an inch into the rib. The rib was healing, so the mastodon may have died of infection, old age, or many more wounds that did not show on his bones.

Three charcoal beds, one on top of the other, were unearthed near the pond, evidence of the oldest human occupation yet found in the Americas. During a later phase of the excavation, twelve separate layers of human habitation were discovered, ranging from 7,000 to 14,000 years ago.

The site was occupied again and again by people hunting and butchering other large mammals, such as bison, that gathered at the ancient pond. The partial remains of two more mastodons were excavated. Radiocarbon dating determined that their bones – which also had the square-cut marks of butchering – were even older than those of the mastodon originally discovered. In 1996, the remains of a mammoth were found near the site. The two elephant species lived there together, 14,000 years ago.

Emanuel and Clare Manis were more than generous. They built a fence, arranged parking, allowed researchers to construct a laboratory and storage sheds, gave tours and turned their barn into a theater for audio slide shows. And to the skeptics at the time who questioned whether or not humans hunted mastodons, Clare Manis had a short, curt reply. “What, did an elk explode?”

After the excavations were finished in 1985, the ancient pond was reburied to protect the bones that remained. The site officially became part of the National Registry of Historic Places in 1978. “Manny” Manis died in 2000; Clare Manis Hatler eventually remarried. In 2002, the land was donated to an archaeological conservancy.

Not long ago I visited the museum in Sequim, near the site of the Manis farm. Some of the mastodon’s bones remain there, caged behind glass, chop marks clearly visible from the butchering. A huge tank holds the tusks underwater so they won’t dry out and become brittle. On a shelf nearby is a rib bone labeled “Please touch me.” It’s highly polished by the thousands of hands that have done so. And just as thousands of hands obeyed the impulse to caress its delicate, yellowed length, so did mine.

I missed him by only 14,000 years, an eyelash of time.

photograph by Cheryl Merrill
photograph by Cheryl Merrill
Posted in Elephants, Mammoths, Nonfiction, Pleistocene, Sacred, Writing

Cave Walls

Rouffignal - The Cave of a Hundred Mammoths, France
Rouffignal – The Cave of a Hundred Mammoths, France

 

There is comfort in keeping what is sacred inside us not as a secret, but as a prayer.

  • Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds

 

There are certain things that can only be learned from a different perspective.

Pushing aside the darkness, a tiny, flickering lamp in hand, our ancestors crawled into the caves of Europe to paint the animals important to them. Still alive on those walls, mammoths with high, domed foreheads and a hump over their shoulders face two-legged stick hunters. Their humps held fat reserves, making them coveted prey, and dangerous prey make great stories.

Caves are potent, resonant underworlds. Tallow lamps held in a hand cast a low-level light, shadow each curve of the rock wall, suggesting a hump over there, the curve of an antler here.  With red, brown and yellow soils dampened by egg white, blood, animal fat or plant juices, our ancestors recorded the vocabulary of the hunt on wall after wall. They made their brushes of hair and their sponges of moss or leaves. They inhaled the dampness of the earth that receives all, both those who eat and those who are eaten.

Escape, exhaustion, success, death, galloping bison and herds of antelope, squared jaws of lions, the arched necks of horses, and outlines of cave bears – painted by generation after generation of artists, who left their signatures in an outline of a hand or a couple of dots, who left only stick representations of themselves.

After etching the outline of a mammoth on rock and storing its spirit forever in darkness, the crawl back to light perhaps gave the world a new appearance – as if it could be conquered, controlled, illuminated, literally brought alive by an artist. Life stories painted under the ribs of the earth. Hidden knowledge. The past the present the future recorded on rocks deep in caves.

Was the crawling to light a prayer?

We are the progeny of ancestors who lived with, hunted and ate the great ones. We are the result of their lives intertwined with those they knew in the belly of the earth.

I carry in my veins a longing for turquoise-blue glaciers, a blood-red night sky and breath I can see as I breathe. Ancient memories flicker across my mind, casting shadows against cave walls. I press my hand against rock, blow pigment between my fingers. This is my signature. Look, I was once here. See how your hand fits into the outline of mine? See these hairy elephants? They were here then, too.

Imagine the smell of air freshly born from retreating glaciers, a sky cleared by melting snow. Imagine the scent of an earth newly thawed. Out there, just like you painted, a mammoth driven by a hunt has fallen over a cliff and bellows arrive in waves.

Our palm prints on cave walls, carvings on bone, the exposure of light on glass plates full of chemicals, digital cameras, electrons arranged in display across computer screens, voices tumbling through the air – is it the destiny of the human race to remember and record? Is that our place on earth?

There is a cave of light from our eye to our brain; but it is the corners of our eyes that perceive the most light; the corners of our minds where we begin to understand.

Cave of the Hands, Argentina
Cave of the Hands, Argentina
Posted in Nature, Photography, Writing

Ivory, Part Two

An Ivory Timeline: from Mammoths to Pharaohs

Around 40,000 years ago, someone took a fragment of a mammoth’s tusk and carved a small mammoth from it – one of the earliest known pieces of art made from ivory.  Roughly an inch high and one-and-a-half inches in length, it’s unmistakably a mammoth, complete with trunk, tail and a high domed head.  Twelve thousand years after the carving was discarded in a cave in Germany, a band of Paleolithic people dug three shallow graves into permafrost near present-day Moscow.  Thousands of tiny ivory beads adorned each skeleton, each bead laboriously made with stone tools.

The earliest carved portrait of a human face dates from around 23,000 years ago.  Discovered in a cave in France, it too was crafted from mammoth ivory.   Named the Venus of Brassempouy for the village near where it was found, the small ivory figurine has a forehead, eyes, brows, nose, but no mouth.  The top and sides of her head depict braided hair.  It was unearthed in 1894 with numerous other figurines made of stone.  Other late Stone Age “Venus” figures, with their bulging torsos and small heads devoid of detail were found in sites that range from the Pyrenees to Siberia.  Ongoing excavations and reconstructions of ivory carvings from the “Stone Age” include ivory birds, lions, horses, and several lion-headed humans, all made by stone tools.

Mammoth Skull in situ, Mammoth Museum, Hot Springs, South Dakota
Mammoth Skull in situ, Mammoth Museum, Hot Springs, South Dakota

At first, there was quite enough ivory simply lying around on the ground to satisfy the needs of man.  Ice Age huts discovered in the Ukraine used mammoth skulls as foundations and shoulder blades as walls.  Tusks held down hides draped over the rooflines.  One hut had 35 such weights.  The age of individual bones used in the construction of these huts spanned more than 10,000 years, an indication of the amount of ivory to be found at hand.  When new sites are found, they are collapsed inward upon themselves; shelters reduced to reliquaries of bone.

Reconstruction of a mammoth bone hut at the Mammoth Museum, Hots Springs, South Dakota
Reconstruction of a mammoth bone hut at the Mammoth Museum, Hots Springs, South Dakota

Early Egyptian pyramids had already been built before the last of the mammoths died.  As pharaohs consolidated their kingdoms, elephant ivory (the material closest to hand) was one of the valued items of tribute sent down the Nile by conquered states.  Not only did Tutankhamen have an ivory headrest in his tomb, he also had ivory statuettes of concubines to accompany him in his afterlife.  Game boards were entombed in his royal suite, to also allay boredom in eternity.  Made of solid ivory, the boards were fitted with carved-out drawers to hold gaming pieces.

Egyptians carved ivory into veneers, reliefs, statuary, jewelry, arrow points, small furniture, combs, spoons, the handles of weapons, scarabs, amulets, coffin lids, and used as inlays on toilet caskets (cosmetic boxes) containing such items as eye shadow pots, mirrors and perfume jars, some also made of ivory.   Cleopatra, who presided over the last of the Pharaonic dynasties, quite possibly participated in banquets while lying on a bronze couch inlaid with glass and ivory described as being in her palace in Alexandria.  The palace was also described as having ivory-paneled entrance halls.  Re-discovered in 2012 beneath the Mediterranean Sea, the royal quarters are relatively intact, having slid under water during cataclysmic earthquakes and tsunamis in the fourth and eighth centuries.   Excavations have just begun of its treasures.

To Egypt’s north, no one society dominated the eastern Mediterranean trade. However, around 1,000 BC, the Phoenicians, in what is now modern-day Lebanon and Syria, had an efficient maritime network that supplied King Solomon with the ivory he needed to build his ivory throne in his temple at Jerusalem.  Described in 1 Kings 10 of the Bible, it was “a great throne of ivory,” covered with the finest gold.  The throne also included rubies, sapphires, emeralds and other precious stones.

In the fifth century BC, the Greek historian Herodotus traveled to the Egyptian city of Elephantine, located at the first cataract of the Nile, and reported that elephants could still be hunted to the west, in Libya.  Also in the fifth century BC, Greeks saw the construction of two immense ivory-covered statues, one of Athena at the Parthenon and the other of Zeus, at Olympia.  Erected around 432 BC, both were made of “chryselephantine:” clothes and scepters of gold, faces, bare arms, shoulders, and torsos covered in ivory.  Zeus, sitting on his throne, was thirty-nine feet tall, the height of a four-story building.  Because ivory dries out once it is separated from the creature who bore it, Zeus and Athena were constantly anointed with olive oil, which collected into a gleaming surrounding pool.

The statue of Zeus was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  Carried off to Constantinople in 394 AD, it was destroyed by fire in 462 AD.  By the Middle Ages all chryselephantine statues had been stripped of their valuable materials and demolished.  Only the hole remains at the Parthenon that held Athena’s central wooden support.

By the third century BC, Rome replaced Greece as the center of the ancient world.  Romans used more ivory than any other civilization until the 1880s.  For their marble statues they inserted ivory into chiseled, empty eyes.  Birdcages, scroll holders, currency, cameos, candleholders, dolls, boxes, and statuettes of gladiators were all made of ivory.  Caligula built an ivory manger for his horse.  Immense consular diptychs (two ivory panels joined by a hinge) carved with the image of the governing consul served as the sign of his office.

Roman doll, Louvre, copyright Genevra Kornbluth
Roman doll, Louvre, copyright Genevra Kornbluth

The Roman demand for ivory caused North Africa’s last wild elephants to vanish around the 2nd century AD, about the time that the last Mediterranean cedars and oaks were felled.

Land that once supported elephants now barely supports goats.

African elephant tusk
African elephant tusk
Posted in Elephants, Extinction, Nature

Mammoth Tree

“Look,” my friend says, “it’s an elephant.” I turn around.  We’re walking along a path above the tide pools at Salt Creek, on the Straits of Juan de Fuca.  It’s a cold, foggy morning, summer slipping into fall. She points to a western red cedar on a curve of the path.  “I see an elephant,” she says.

She’s right.  But where she sees a generic elephant I see a mammoth, a young Columbian mammoth, with a shaggy curl of moss on its domed forehead and layered fur all the way down its trunk.  Its small ear flaps forward and a rounded burl eye stares sightlessly out over the straits.  His trunk (by now I’ve already decided his gender) reaches down into salal and young firs, as if he is browsing while standing on the edge of a cliff where land meets sea.

Mammoth in Cedar

I reach out and touch this frozen young giant – about seven feet tall to the top of his dome.  He’ll be ten feet tall when fully grown.  Of course he’s impassive, wooden to my touch, but the swirl of his bark/fur makes him seem as if he just stopped as we rounded his corner, hoping to blend in before deciding on our intent.

I retrace my steps to the other side of the tree and discover that my gender assignment is completely wrong.  On the exact opposite side of the mammoth’s head is its unmistakably female rear end, two legs solidly planted on the ground, a hanging vulva in between them.  Even though shaggy fur covers her rump, anus and legs, her triangular shaped vulva can clearly be seen.  Male elephants have internal scrotum and their small hanging folds are tucked up and under.  This mammoth is definitely female.

Mammoth Cedar female

The western red cedar grows straight and tall from the middle of her back.  I assume she grew around a nurse log, forming her shape during a hundred years or more.  Cedars like this one will grow to 180 feet and live for a thousand years.  Mammoths disappeared ten thousand years ago.  But I wonder if giants remember giants and try to resurrect them however they can.

Posted in Extinction, Mammoths, Mastodons, Pleistocene

And Just Where Would We Put Them?

Theoretically, it is possible to reclaim extinct beings, to spin evolution backwards. To recreate a mammoth all you need are a few live mammoth cells, since each and every cell contains complete genetic information.  Red-furred segments of mammoth flesh are not uncommon discoveries in Siberia, usually found by sled dogs that eagerly gnaw on frozen haunches.  But cells die if stored above minus 94º Fahrenheit, even for short periods.  Still, the possibility of finding live cells does exist.  Paleontologists in Ohio have isolated 11,000-year-old bacteria from the stomach of a mastodon, the oldest living organisms ever found.

To recreate a mammoth, destroy the nucleus in the ovum of an Asian elephant.  Then inject live mammoth-cell DNA into the altered ovum and implant the artificial zygote into the uterus of an Asian elephant.  If the 22-month pregnancy is successful, you can expect the birth of a 100% mammoth baby.

Another method is to take mammoth sperm (selected to ensure female offspring), inject it into an elephant’s egg and wait 22 months for your mammophant, a half elephant, half mammoth calf.  Then wait until the hybrid is sixteen or so, breed it with more female-selected sperm, and in 3 generations of mammophants, say sixty years, the resulting pachyderm will be 90% mammoth with 16-foot tusks.  The obvious obstacle to this method is that hardly any non-degraded frozen mammoth cells exist, let along viable sperm.  And even if some were found, would two species separated by millions of years of evolution even be capable of producing offspring?

So let’s go back to the method that just might be successful.  Let’s find live mammoth DNA, or perhaps just replicate some of it, and join it with the ovum of an Asian elephant.  The resulting offspring would be a cloned mammoth.

Then what?

To get more mammoths you have to artificially construct more zygotes, which need more live mammoth cells, which would result in clones of clones –  unless you find a lot of live mammoth DNA from many different individuals.  And for such a project you need elephants as surrogate moms.  Endangered Asian elephants.  Even with a whole herd of resurrected mammoths, inbreeding could make the population nonviable.  Would a hyper-disease be resurrected too?  Could it jump to elephants?

And where would we put our newly minted species?  In zoos?  On reservations? In those isolated pockets we call National Parks?  While we’re at it, shouldn’t we resurrect some cavemen, too?  In Northern Siberia scientists are already attempting to create a mammoth ecosystem called Pleistocene Park.  Imagine the tickets they could sell to watch Neanderthals, our human cousins, hunting.

And where do we stop?  Do we bring back Saber-toothed Cats, Dire wolves and Giant Short-faced Bears? Do we re-create their habitats?  Lower the temperature of the earth four degrees in this time of global warming?  Bring back the Ice Ages?