What is the Link Between Mammoths and People?
Mammoths were often the subject of Upper Paleolithic artists in Europe. Large and ferocious, herds of mammoths would have been an awesome sight on the periglacial landscape. Early Europeans, like other hunting and gathering peoples probably lived in bands of about 25 people. Some would have been too old, too young or disabled to take part in a hunt, although they may have helped frighten mammoths if they were driven into a trap, dead end valley or over a cliff. Can you imagine what a mammoth hunt would have been like?
Early peoples used stone tools to kill and butcher game animals. Most of the parts of the animal would have been useful – long bones and ribs could have been used as architectural elements supporting a large mammoth skin roof in a tent. Some bones and the ivory from the teeth could have been made into tools, carved into pendants and charms or even used as musical instruments. Mammoth skins were probably too thick and heavy to have been made into clothing, but they could have been used as roofs and walls of tents, mats, under bedding and cut into thin strips and used as rope. Tough tendons and ligaments may have been used in making tools, hafting stone tools to a handle. The organs were eaten or may have been used as medicine. Even the stomach contents could have been used. Some peoples who live close to the land eat the stomach contents of caribou and other game. Yum!
The meat would have been eaten, of course. Such a large amount of meat, available once in a long while, would have been cause for much celebration! Our ancestors did not have modern methods of preserving foods such as cans or refrigerators, but had several ways to extend the bounty of the hunt over a longer period of time. Meat could have been cut into thin strips and dried in the wind or smoked over a fire. In a periglacial environment, there may have been permafrost that could have been used as a freezer. Caches of meat would have to be protected from other predators like dire wolves and cave bears.
Upper Paleolithic peoples probably did not live in caves. But they visited caves, crawling into the dark, cool chambers with flickering torches. Artists painted magnificent scenes of mammoths and aurochs, cave bears and lions, ibexes, goats, and even a penguin!
What about mammoths and people in North America?