A clash of the mammoths thousands of years ago
could have taken place in what is now southern England. Fossils
found in Buckinghamshire and Norfolk in 2001 suggested that two
types of mammoth lived side-by-side in the prehistoric landscape.
Experts generally believed that herds of more
advanced mammoths moving south from Siberia encountered primitive
European ones. The newcomers were better adapted to a cold climate
and eventually outbred their contemporaries. But the European mammoths
may have interbred with the Siberian invaders, leaving their mark
in the gene pool.
Until recently it was thought that the woolly mammoth
and the two species of mammoth that preceded it evolved gradually,
never walking the planet at the same time. But in the last few years
(up to the time of writing) the theory had been called into question
by new fossils uncovered in Europe. The discoveries, by a Russian and
British expert, suggested that different species of mammoth co-existed
at two critical stages in their evolution.
Andrei Sher, of the Severtsov Institute of Ecology
and Evolution, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, was able to provide
the case for the new theory. It was a classic concept that mammoth
ancestors came from Africa 3-4 million years ago and then gradually
evolved in Eurasia during the course of a period of climate change -
the trend towards a colder climate.
According to existing theory, their evolution in Eurasia
was gradual, culminating in the woolly mammoth. More recently, however,
new evidence had been emerging from Europe that didn't fit the picture.
Three species of mammoth are known to have been present in Europe and
The most primitive mammoth was the ancestral or early
mammoth, which lived in Europe between about 2.5 million and 700,000
years ago. This was followed by the steppe mammoth, which lived until
about 200,000 years ago, then the woolly mammoth, which finally died out
about 3,500 years ago. Climate cooling, the appearance of permafrost and
a very harsh climate appeared in Siberia much earlier than they did in