THE WOOLLY MAMMOTH (Mammuthus primigenius)
The Finnish word “mammoth” stands for “an earth mole”: the people who discovered the remains of mammoths thought such an animal lived underground. In fact the mammoths descended from the African elephants approximately 3.5 million years ago. This evolution was caused by the advent of the next Ice Age leading to a global cooling on Earth. The mammoth was well equipped for the life in a cold climate: its body was protected with very long shaggy fur (up to 80–100 cm in length) and a thick layer of fat under the skin. It raked the snow with its huge spiral-shaped tusks searching for food, and used the fl exible trunk with a glove-like tip to rip grass and shrubs. The huge teeth got replaced 6 times over the span of the mammoth’s life; shaped like graters, these teeth perfectly served the purpose of grinding coarse herbaceous food. The mammoth consumed up to 200 kg grass per day! Its tusks reached 4.5 m in length (for reference, the length of an elephant’s tusk is “just” 3 meters) and weighed up to 200 kg. The mammoth itself could weigh over 6 tons, with a height of up to 4 meters. The lifespan of a mammoth was approximately 80 years: after the last teeth fell out, the mammoth starved to death. These animals populated the territories spanning from southern Spain to America. Nearing the end of the Ice Age (app. 10 thousand years ago) the mammoths began to die out due to shortage of landscapes suitable for their habitation, and through fast expansion of the man. The warming climate continuously drove the mammoths further north in that period of time. The last mammoths disappeared 3.5 thousand years ago (about the times when the Egyptians built their pyramids). The remains of the last mammoths were found at the Wrangel Island – they were skinny like cows due to meager food. The primitive man consumed the mammoth meat, used its hide to sew clothes, its bones to build shelter, and its tusks to make hunting weapons and carve the fi rst adornments.
THE SABER-TOOTHED TIGERS
The discoveries made by Jorge Morales, the Spanish paleontologist, 30 km southward of Madrid give evidence that the saber-toothed tigers inhabited Spain. Around 30 skeletons of these animals have been found, aged approximately 9–10 million years. The remains have also been found in the Atapuerca cave. The sabertoothed tigers inhabited the whole planet, with the exception of Australia and the Antarctic. They evolved 25 million years ago and disappeared 9 thousand years ago, with the extinction of the largest mammals which the tigers used to prey upon. The sabertoothed tigers distinguished themselves through strongly developed upper fangs, up to 18 cm long. These teeth were more than just a decoration: the tiger could open its jaws to an angle of 120 degrees, and deliver deadly strikes with its long fangs. However, their body structure was closer to that of a bear: somewhat shorter than a lion’s, but massive (350 kg), with a big head and a short tail. The saber-toothed tigers probably killed their prey with the blows of their powerful paws, and only used the fangs to carve the prey. They hunted together and lived in prides, the way the modern lions do. It is a widespread misconception that the prehistoric sabertoothed tiger was the ancestor of the modern tiger.
THE MUSKOX (Ovibos moschatus)
Unlike some other Ice Age mammals, the muskox (or musk buff alo) did not become extinct or transform into another species, which gives us the opportunity to study it in the wild today. The name “musk buff alo” comes from the musky scent secreted by the animal’s infraorbital gland, particularly during the estrus. In Eurasia, the last muskoxen were exterminated around 200 years ago. These animals are approximately 1.5 meters high, up to 2.5 meters long, and weigh up to 300 kg. It is a massive short-legged animal covered in a long thick black brown coat. The muskox has a short thick neck, its tail is covered in fur; the crooked horns have a very massive base. The cloven-footed animals form herds of 20 to 30 feeding on lichen, moss, and grass. The muskox resembles a bull only in the appearance: it is really much closer related to sheep. In great cold, the muskox press tightly together forming a “caret” (a square). They behave in the same way when spotting an approaching enemy: the muskoxen hide their young ones in the middle and stick out their horns. No predator would have the resolve to attack such a herd. The Romans utilized this formation in their military tactics, arraying the warriors in “carets” on the battlefi eld. The muskoxen rarely defecate and drink no water, thus conserving the warmth. They substitute liquids with snow, so almost all moisture consumed stays in their system. The rock carvings of muskoxen in the Altamira Cave, as well as very naturalistic sculptures found at the ancient Atapuerca site, give testimony of the primitive man’s aff ection for these creatures. In the present day, the muskoxen inhabit Greenland and the islands of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago; they were also brought to the Svalbard Archipelago and Alaska.
THE WOOLLY RHINOCEROS(Coelodonta antiquitatis)
The horn of a woolly rhino is a very rare fossil material, but there are several in the Barcelona Mammoth Museum! The research confi rmed that the rhino’s nasal horn had a fl at form in the lifetime of the animal. Some of the exemplars show the abrasion on the frontal part of the horn: the animal used it to rake the snow through swinging movements of its head. The horn served as a kind of a harvester, a combination of a scythe and a scoop shovel, indispensable for foraging in the subpolar (and transpolar) latitudes over most part of the year. The woolly rhino’s tropical congeners had no such problems, which is why their horns have a rounded contour and lack the abrasions. A woolly rhino, unlike its modern relatives, had a fully calcifi cated nasal septum: the horn needed an additional support in order to endure signifi cant stress. A welldeveloped occipital bone also contributed, providing an additional area for the attachment of a powerful muscle system. The rear horn on the forehead of the animal also shows a certain degree of glossing. It is obvious that the rhino would not be able to reach the ground with that horn, try as it might. That horn, however, could be used to defl ect the attacks of a rival, serving in a manner of a guard. A depiction of such a fi ght of two woolly rhinos has been found in the Chauvet Cave in the south of France. The horn of a woolly rhino resembles strands of hair glued together. It is not preserved in fossil state, but several horns frozen into the ice were found in the permafrost. Our ancestors encountered the ancient rhinoceroses, hunted them and made drawings of these animals on cave walls throughout France and Spain. The giants originating from India weighed up to 4 tons, their body up to 3.8 meters long and of up to 2 meters high. During the Ice Age (50,000–12,000 years ago) the distribution area of these animals ranged from the Pyrenees to Chukotka.
THE PREHISTORIC BISON (Bison priscus)
In the present day, when we hear the word “bison”, we think of the Great Plains of the New World. However, the land where these largest wild bulls of our time fi rst appeared about 1 million years ago was the Southern Asia. The bison then spread into Europe approximately 700 thousand years ago and into North America 500 thousand years ago. Several species remain which are close relatives to that genus. The largest animals are up to 2 meters high, 3 meters long and weighing about 1.5 tons. Their ancestor, the prehistoric bison, weighed up to 2.5 tons and had a horn spread of 1.8 meters – four men could have sat between those horns! There are magnifi cent portraits of these powerful bulls in the Altamira Cave and other caves of Spain. A mummifi ed bison was found in Alaska in 1979 by gold diggers. It was named “Blue Babe” because the body of the 8–9 years old young bull was covered in an indigo colored mineral. Aside from the common anatomic details, the researchers were able to reconstruct the last days of life of the young bison. There are marks of an American lion’s teeth on its face (one tooth even broke off and got stuck in the skull of the bison), claw marks on its neck, and deep bruises done by another lion on the hind part of its hide. The reconstructed picture of the fi ght resembles the hunting habits of the modern African lionesses: one attacks from behind trying to bring down the escaping prey, another clenches its jaws on the muzzles in order to suff ocate it. The “Blue Babe” won the fi ght but died from the injuries when it got stuck in a swamp while fl eeing from its pursuers. This took place 36,000 years ago. In the present time, the bison can be encountered on two continents: it’s the European bison in Europe and the American bison in America. The bison may be considered related to the bull as it descended from the auroch (the wild ox) but the relationship is rather remote.
THE CAVE BEAR (Ursus (Spelearctos) spelaeus)
The cave bear is traditionally considered one of the largest predators of the Ice Age, with a body length of up to 4 meters and a weight of 800–900 kg. Its head alone was ½ meter long, as seen on the exhibits of the Barcelona Mammoth Museum. However, the cave bear was not as fearsome as it looked: it was a calm, sluggish, herbivorous giant, not a fi erce predator at all. The bear fed on roots and berries, only attacking animals or humans when in great hunger. As a rule, these animals occupied caves for the period of their winter sleep – this is where their name comes from. Neanderthal men hunted the sluggish bear 80 thousand years ago. They killed the beast in order to take its dwelling; the bear’s meat and fat were healthy and nutritional, and its thick hide served as clothing and a sleeping bed. The cave giant was powerless against the men armed with sharp spears and fi re. This species is not an ancestor of the modern brown or polar bears. The cave bears lived all over Europe, and their remains are discovered quite frequently in Spain. The natural disasters were not the reason that caused the cave bears to vanish from the surface of the Earth: it happened because of the primitive man who wanted to claim their caves.
THE PREHISTORIC DEER(Alces alces)
It is a miracle what a deer lived on Earth just a short while back! It held its noble head 3 meters above the ground bearing magnifi cent horns, bigger than any other horns that ever existed: up to 3–4 meters in spread, weighing 38 kg. For reference, the horns of a modern deer weigh only 18 kg and do not exceed 1.5 meters in spread. Because of the great horns, the ancient deer was named “large-horned”. Over generations, the horns kept growing in size, and their upper part gradually assumed the form of a shovel. The number of prongs also grew. The large-horned deer preferred wide fl ats covered in grass and shrubs, while avoiding forests where its huge horns impeded its passage. It could easily and rapidly move over squashy ground thank to its broad hooves. The large-horned deer was a contemporary of the primitive man, but the men did not hunt it much. Whole skeletons of the prehistoric deer are often found in swamps, most of them – male beasts. Deer went to their watering places and ended up in quagmires. Cumbersome bucks could not free themselves from it, pulled down by the heavy horns, and the hornless female deer managed to get away. Thus the horns – a symbol of the animal’s gender, force, and power – often became their undoing. The elk is a modern relative of the large-horned dear. The elk’s horn spread reaches 2 meters, with a weight of up to 35 kg. Elks shed their horns every late fall, after which the horns grow back again by spring at a rate of 2.5 cm per day.
THE STENON’S HORSE (Equus lenensis)
The Stenon’s horse is an ancient species which was widely spread across Europe over 1 million years ago. The history of the horse goes back 60 million years. Many centuries passed before this amazing species evolved from the fi ve-toed fox-sized tiny horse into the European tarpan. Based upon the fossil remains, there were millions of horses grazing all over Europe 10 thousand years ago, at the end of the Ice Age. All of those horses belonged to the same species, “the wild horse”. The changing climate and shrinking grassland giving way to the forests had a signifi cant negative impact on the population of wild horses; the primitive hunters also took their toll. 4 thousand years ago, the wild horse has already become quite rare in Europe, but two of its subspecies could still be encountered in nature until recently: the tarpan and Przewalski’s horse. The closest relatives of the wild horse at the moment are zebras, donkeys and kulans. Hundreds of thousands of fossil bone remains have been discovered on the Spanish territory, including entire skeletons of ancient horses. The primitive men have made numerous rock carvings of these animals.