Exceptionally well preserved bones belonging to five steppe mammoths from the Ice Age have been unearthed close to the town of Swindon in the Cotswolds in England. The remains, which have been described as being in “near-pristine condition”, belonged to two adults, two juveniles, and one infant that all died approximately 220,000 years ago.
In addition to the mammoth bones, several stone tools belonging to Neanderthals were also discovered at the site. And more are expected to be found as only a small portion of the gravel quarry has been excavated thus far.
It’s still a mystery as to why five mammoths all died in that one spot and whether the tools were used to kill them, but it is possible as Neanderthals were known to have hunted the massive creatures. A glacial flood has pretty much been ruled out, so Neanderthals may have had something to do with their deaths as some bones appear to have cut marks on them and flint tools would have been used for cleaning up the hides. Of course, they may have already been dead when the Neanderthals scavenged their remains. Since the area was very lush and fertile, humans and animals would have occupied the region.
In an interview with The Observer, evolutionary biologist Professor Ben Garrod from the University of East Anglia discussed the significance of the discovery by stating, “This is one of the most important discoveries in British paleontology,” adding that finding so many mammoth bones is “incredibly rare”.
As for the mammoths, Garrod described them as weighing as much as 15 tonnes. “This was the largest species of mammoth ever. By the time they were about to be gone, they had dropped down to 10 tonnes, which still sounds a lot. We think that was an adaptation to the change in environment, climate and resource availability. It was becoming colder at that time, resources were getting sparser, and it drove that shrinking of the species. On top of that, there would have been undoubtedly local pressure from hunting and competition from other species,” he explained.
This is a very important site for discovering the remains of animals from the Ice Age, such as massive elks with antlers that measured 10 feet across (3 meters). On the other hand, very small creatures have been unearthed there as well that includes dung beetles and freshwater snails. Furthermore, pollen, seeds, and plant fossils (some of which are now extinct) have been recovered at the site.
Pictures of some of the mammoth bones can be viewed here.