Mammoth—riddle of the Ice Age
A typical illustration of a woolly mammoth, which had three types of hair. The outside hair was up to one metre long. Besides woolly mammoth skin having had oil glands, it was also discovered that the hair had adaptations for the cold.
News recently flashed around the world of what many scientists hoped to be a nearly whole mammoth, found in permafrost in the Taymyr Peninsula in northern Siberia.1,2 Once again fascinated, people asked: ‘What exactly are mammoths?’, ‘Where did they come from?’, ‘When did they live?’, ‘Why did they become extinct?’ and ‘Can they be cloned?’.
What is a mammoth?
Evidently a variety of elephant, mammoths belong to the mammalian order Proboscidea.3 Mammoths (genus Mammuthus) had the usual elephantine features of a trunk and tusks. Mammoths had a large shoulder hump and a sloping back; small ears and tail; very complex teeth; a small trunk with a distinctive tip with two finger-like projections; huge, spirally curved tusks up to 3.5 m (11.5 feet) long; and spiral locks of dark hair covering a silky underfur.4,5 Some were huge—the Columbian mammoth measured up to 4+ metres (14 feet) high at the shoulders—about the same size as the largest living elephants. But the woolly mammoth was smaller, and there were dwarf mammoths only two metres (six feet) tall.5,6
Where did they come from?
The answer to such questions about the past comes from the Word of one who was there—the Creator. He revealed in Genesis that He created land animals and people on Day Six of Creation Week (Genesis 1:24–27). This passage teaches that God made distinct kinds of animals, which would breed ‘after their kind’.
Each of these kinds could split into a number of varieties, when small populations containing a fraction of the original pre-existing genetic information became isolated. Copying errors (mutations) which reduce information can produce other varieties. This is not evolution in the particles-to-people sense, because that requires new genes with new information.7
So what are the ‘kinds’? There are often problems matching the created kinds to man-made classification systems, often relying on shape and size, even though the system was founded by the Swedish creationist biologist Carl Linnaeus.8 From God’s Word we infer that reproduction defines ‘kinds’.
Thus if two creatures can interbreed, they belong to the same kind. Many scientists define a species as a group of individuals which can freely interbreed and produce fertile offspring. Thus the biblical kinds would have originally been species.
But the kind may be broader than a modern-day species. Because the different modern varieties may have different fractions of the original gene pool, the offspring from crossing different varieties (hybrids) may be sterile, or not survive. Thus each created kind may have been the ancestor of several present-day species.9 But as long as two creatures can hybridize with true fertilization, the two creatures are the same kind.10 Also, if two creatures can hybridize with the same third creature, they are all members of the same kind.11,12
To illustrate the problems with the man-made system, sometimes members of different ‘species’, and even higher groupings, can produce fertile offspring.13 This means that they are really the same species that has several varieties, hence a polytypic (many types) species.
Applying this to elephants, the African elephant (Loxodonta africana) and Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) can mate and produce offspring, albeit short-lived.4
Thus they belong to the same created kind, possibly even the same species, even though the man-made system calls them separate ‘species’ and even different ‘genera’ (plural of genus). Mammoths are considered to be closer to Asian elephants than African elephants are. So if the mammoth lived today, it could very likely cross-breed with an Asian elephant.4 Therefore the entire order Proboscidea probably comprises only one created kind.13
The Encyclopædia Britannica provides unwitting support for the biblical framework.14 In a table of fossil placental mammals, the proboscideans (and all other orders) are preceded by dotted lines, indicating no actual fossils of their alleged evolutionary ancestors.15 And it says: “The order Proboscidea has evolved from unknown ancestors that were not much larger than pigs.” Of course, if the ancestors are ‘unknown’, we can’t know what size they were, or even that they ever existed!
The rise and fall of the mammoth
After their creation, God cursed the elephant kind along with the ‘whole creation’ (Romans 8:20–22) when Adam sinned. About 1,600 years later, God sent a global Flood to extinguish man and all land (vertebrate) animals, apart from the representatives of each kind that Noah took on the ocean-liner-sized Ark (Genesis 6–8). It’s possible that Noah took only one pair of proboscideans on board.
However, the elephant kind could have already split into the varieties (‘genera’) like the mammoths, mastodons, and African and Asian elephants. John Woodmorappe has shown that the Ark was easily large enough to have taken pairs of each genus of land vertebrate animal, and that this would provide enough genetic variation to give rise to today’s varieties.16 Fully-grown elephants (age 25) were not needed; rather, it would be enough to take juveniles just old enough to breed by the end of the Flood (age 8–9 for females; 11–12 males).17
The Flood did not leave too many fossils of large mammals, partly because they tended to bloat and float, and be destroyed by scavengers. Many fossils of large mammals that we do find were probably produced by local post-Flood catastrophes. A particular type of catastrophe involved the mammoths …
The Ice Age
There is strong evidence that, following the Flood, for a time ice and snow covered much of Canada and northern USA, northwestern Eurasia, Greenland and Antarctica. Evolutionists believe there were many ice ages, but it’s more likely they were advance/retreat cycles within a single Ice Age.
Evolutionists find the cause of the Ice Age a mystery. Obviously the climate would need to be colder. But global cooling by itself is not enough, because then there would be less evaporation, so less snow. How is it possible to have both a cold climate and lots of evaporation?
The creationist meteorologist Michael Oard proposed that the Ice Age [possibly referred to in Job 37:10 and 38:22] was an aftermath of Noah’s Flood.18,19 When “all the fountains of the great deep” broke up, much hot water and lava would have poured directly into the oceans.
This would have warmed the oceans, increasing evaporation. At the same time, much volcanic ash in the air after the Flood would have blocked out much sunlight, cooling the land.
So the Flood would have produced the necessary combination of lots of evaporation from the warmed oceans and cool continental climate from the volcanic ash ‘sunblock’. This would have resulted in increased snowfall over the continents. With the snow falling faster than it melted, ice sheets would have built up.
The end of the Ice Age
This ice buildup would probably have lasted several centuries. Eventually, the seas gradually cooled, so evaporation would decrease, therefore the snow supply for the continents would also decrease. And as the ash settled out of the atmosphere, it would allow sunlight through. So the ice sheets began to melt. Sometimes the melting would have been rapid enough for the rivers that drained these ice sheets to flood. These catastrophes would have happened about 700 years after the Flood (see aside).
Mammoths and the Ice Age
In areas worst affected by the Ice Age, natural selection would have eliminated creatures lacking genes for survival in the cold. It would favour creatures with existing genes for long fur for insulation; and small ears, tails and trunks (to prevent heat loss from large surface areas). Again, this is not evolution, because it generates no new genetic information.7 Indeed, modern elephants never develop thick hair even when exposed to below-freezing temperatures at night for months,20 simply because the genetic information is lacking.
Elephants can breed quickly enough that the population could double four times per century, so the population could have easily exceeded a million in the centuries of the Ice Age.21
However, most mammoths have left no trace: there are fewer than 50 known woolly mammoth carcasses, only about a half-dozen of which were complete. But an estimated 50,000 tusks have been found. Man hunted mammoths extensively, and even recorded this in cave paintings. Fierce predators like the Smilodon (sabre-toothed tiger) also took their toll.
Mammoths in ice?
Some have claimed that the well-preserved frozen mammoths must have been snap-frozen to about –97°C (–146°F). However, this is not so. Most frozen mammoths show signs of scavenging and decay. Many years in the ice caused the flesh to dry out (just like a stew left in a freezer for years), resulting in a mummy.22
Some frozen mammoths had partially digested stomach contents. But this doesn’t prove a supercold snap freeze—a mastodon with stomach contents was found in mid-western USA, where the ground was not even frozen.23 It’s possible that the elephant’s digestive system itself explains the stomach contents being only partially digested. Its large stomach is mainly a storage area, with only a little breakdown of the vegetation by enzymes. Most digestion occurs in the huge cecum and large intestine with the help of microbes fermenting the food.24
An evolutionist suggests that they “died suddenly by drowning or asphyxiation following burial in mud flows, caved-in river banks, or collapsed gully walls”.25 Oard suggests flooding caused by ice melting at the close of the Ice Age could have caused such local catastrophes, and a quick drop in temperature (but not a snap-freeze) explains the freezing.
The location of the mammoths makes it unlikely they were formed during Noah’s Flood. They are always found in frozen ‘muck’ in Alaska and ‘yedomas’ in Siberia, near the surface throughout the mid and high latitudes, mostly in river valleys, and occasionally in ice wedges. Despite the myths, most mammoths are not encased in ice.
[Note: after this article was written, Mike Oard proposed that the mammoths were killed and buried by gigantic dust storms, because the yedomas and muck are loess, or wind-blown silt. See ‘Mr Ice Age’ solves woolly mammoth mystery, and his overview The extinction of the woolly mammoth: was it a quick freeze? J. Creation 14(3):24–34, 2000.]
The Zoological Museum in St Petersburg, Russia, holds some remarkably complete mammoth carcasses from Siberia, including the Adams or Lena mammoth, now a skeleton three metres (10 feet) high at the scapula (shoulder-blade); the Berezovka (Березо́вка) mammoth which was not fully-grown at about 2.6 m (8+ feet) shoulder height; the Taymyr mammoth; and the 6–12-month-old Magadan mammoth calf nicknamed ‘Dima’.
Could we clone a mammoth?
There were high hopes with the latest mammoth found in Taymyr that enough of its hereditary material—DNA—could be found to clone a mammoth. The proposal was to extract the DNA from the nucleus of an intact cell, and implant it into the egg cell (stripped of its own nucleus) of an Asian elephant.26
However, a recent New Scientist article bluntly stated “Forget about cloning mammoths”.27 The DNA of this mammoth is so fragmented that the longest sequence has only 100 base pairs (‘letters’28). New Scientist said: “But they are far from the billions of base pairs needed for cloning. ‘It’s like a two-year-old trying to put together a battleship from two billion pieces of metal,’ says Greenwood [of the American Museum of Natural History in New York].” Incidentally, the extreme instability of DNA29 is actually a huge problem for theories of the origin of life from a primordial soup.30
A clone would be a full mammoth, but another idea is to extract sperm and fertilize the egg of an Asian elephant and produce a hybrid. But this also requires intact DNA, so it won’t work either.31
Have any mammoths survived today?
There have been stories that mammoths were seen in the Eastern Ural mountains and Vladivostok in Russia, as recently as 1918.6 While these are not now verifiable, there is conclusive video and photographic proof that some genes for characteristic mammoth features have survived, in some elephants in Nepal.32
Although the media use mammoths as evolutionary propaganda, they can be properly explained by a biblical worldview. Mammoths are a variety of the elephant kind, created on Day 6. The elephant kind was preserved from extinction by being on board Noah’s Ark. But many of the descendants of the Ark animals, including the mammoths, died in catastrophes at the end of the Ice Age, some 4,000 years ago. Some of their frozen carcasses are preserved, but their genetic material is not intact. Some mammoth genes have lived on in Nepalese elephants.
Part of the Grand Coulee Gorge, an 80-km-long trench carved through solid rock by one Ice Age flood. Photo courtesy of ICR.
When the ice began to melt, about 500 years after the Flood, large lakes would have built up. Sometimes, they would have been contained by natural ice dams for a while. But when these finally cracked, the lakes would have burst through. This water can have tremendous destructive power: when ancient Lake Missoula in Montana (USA) burst an ice dam in Idaho, 2000 km3 (500 cubic miles) of water poured westward at express-train speed — the Spokane Flood. It eroded 200 km3 (50 cubic miles) of sediment and bedrock, carving the elaborate Channeled Scablands in eastern Washington State.1 This includes the Grand Coulee, an 80-km (50-mile) long trench, one to six miles wide, with steep walls up to 275 m (900 feet) high, chiselled through hard basalt and granite1 (shown at right).
But when J. Harlen Bretz proposed this explanation for the Channeled Scablands in 1923, it was rejected out-of-hand because of the anti-catastrophist bias in the geological community. Bretz wasn’t vindicated till almost 40 years later.2 There is evidence for a catastrophe on a similar scale in Siberia.3
Oard points out that much melt-water would also pour onto the ocean. Salt water stays liquid below 0°C (32°F), and is denser than fresh water. So if melt-water poured into the Arctic Ocean, it would tend to float on top, and freeze. The resulting ice layer would cover much of the ocean’s surface. The ice would separate the air from the ocean, and reflect sunlight, preventing it from heating the earth (albedo effect), because this requires absorption of the radiation. Snow would soon fall, increasing the albedo even more.
These effects would greatly outweigh the small amount of latent heat released when the water froze — so much so that the temperature over the adjacent land could drop 30 Celsius degrees (54 Fahrenheit degrees) in a week. This, plus wind chill, could explain the frozen mammoth carcasses and the apparently sudden change in the climate.3
References and notes
- Stone, R., Siberian mammoth find raises hopes, questions, Science 286(5441):876–877, 1999 | doi: 10.1126/science.286.5441.876. Return to text
- Hecht, J., Dead and Gone: Ice-damaged DNA leaves little chance of a mammoth return, New Scientist 164(2212):11, 1999. Return to text
- For more information about elephants, see Weston, P., Heard of Elephants?, Creation 21(4):28–32, 1999; creation.com/elephant2. Return to text
- Mammoth Story, rbcm1.rbcm.gov.bc.ca, accessed November 1999. Return to text
- Haynes, G., Mammoths, Mastodonts and Elephants: Biology, behavior and the fossil record, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K., Ch. 2, 1991. Return to text
- Of mastodons, mammoths and other giants of the Pleistocene, unmuseum.mus.pa.us, accessed January 2000. Return to text
- See Sarfati, J., Refuting Evolution Creation Book Publishers, Australia, Ch. 2, 1999. Return to text
- Lamont, A., 21 great scientists who believed the Bible, Creation Science Foundation, Queensland, Australia, pp. 48–61, 1995. Return to text
- Wieland, C., Variation, information and the created kind, J. Creation 5(1):42–47, 1991; creation.com/kind. Return to text
- Marsh, F.L., Variation and Fixity in Nature, Pacific Press, Mountain View, CA, USA, p. 37, 1976. Return to text
- Scherer, S., Basic Types of Life, p. 197; Ch. 8 of Dembski, Wm. A., Mere Creation: Science, faith and intelligent design, Downers Grove, IL, USA, 1998. Return to text
- The implication is one-way—hybridization is evidence that they are the same kind, but it does not necessarily follow that if hybridization cannot occur then they are not members of the same kind. Return to text
- Marsh, Ref. 10, Ch. 3, gives many examples, including Bos (true cattle) and Bison (American buffalo), which can produce a fertile hybrid called a cattalo. Bos and Bison are classified as not only different ‘species’ but different genera, but they are really the same polytypic species by the common definition. Return to text
- ‘Mammals’, The New Encyclopædia Britannica 23:339–459, 15th Ed. 1992. Return to text
- Ref. 14, p. 352. Return to text
- Woodmorappe, J., Noah’s Ark: A Feasibility Study, Institute for Creation Research, El Cajon, CA, USA, 1996. Return to text
- Ref. 14, p. 436. Return to text
- Oard explains this in his technical book An Ice Age Caused by the Genesis Flood, ICR, El Cajon, CA, USA, 1990. He has also shown that evidence for alleged Precambrian, Ordovician and Permian ‘ice ages’ is best explained as underwater debris flows, in his book Ancient Ice Ages or Submarine Landslides?, Creation Research Soc., Chino Valley, AR, USA, 1997. Oard also wrote Life in the Great Ice Age (co-authored with Beverley Oard, Master Books, El Cajon, CA, USA, 1993), which combines a colourful children’s novel with a simplified scientific explanation. [Update: his latest book is Frozen in Time: The Woolly Mammoth, the Ice Age, and the Bible, 2004.] Return to text
- See also Batten, D. (Ed.), et al., The Creation Answers Book, ch. 16, Creation Book Publishers, Queensland, Australia, 2006. Return to text
- Ref. 5, p. 32. Return to text
- How did millions of mammoth fossils form?, Creation 21(4):56, 1999. Return to text
- Guthrie, R.D., Frozen Fauna of the Mammoth Steppe, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, USA, 1990. Return to text
- Wieland, C., Tackling the big freeze: An interview with creationism’s ‘Mr Ice Age’ — weather scientist Michael Oard, Creation 19(1):42–43, 1996. Return to text
- Ref. 5, pp. 58–61. Return to text
- Ref. 5, p. 48. Return to text
- Ref. 1; compare Wieland, C., Hello Dolly! Cloning and Creation, Creation 19(3):23, 1997. Return to text
- Ref. 1; citing Molecular Biology and Evolution 16:1466, 1999. Return to text
- See Grigg, R., A brief history of design, Creation 22(2):50–53, 2000; creation.com/design-history. Return to text
- T. Lindahl, T., Instability and decay of the primary structure of DNA, Nature 362(6422):709–715, 1993 | doi:10.1038/362709a0. Return to text
- RNA is even more unstable, so the RNA-world hypothesis is also flawed. See Mills, G.C. and Kenyon, D.H., The RNA World: A Critique, Origins and Design 17(1):9–16, 1996. Return to text
- Nolch, G., Aussie casts doubt on mammoth cloning plans, Australasian Science, p. 5, November/December 1999. Return to text
- Ref. 3; after Wieland, C., ‘Lost world’ animals — found!, Creation 19(1):10–13, 1996; creation.com/elephant. Return to text