| Gomphotheres are related to primitive elephantids, and share many features
with them. Their grinding teeth, for example, had many more cusps and more
complicated wear patterns than those of mastodons. Cuvieronius, the
last genus of New World gomphotheres to become extinct, was widely distributed
in North, Central, and South America. In feeding habits it was presumably a
browser. In South America, this taxon survived until about 11,000 radiocarbon
years before present; they apparently became extinct somewhat earlier in
See also: Kurtén, B., and E. Anderson, 1980. Pleistocene Mammals of North America. Columbia University Press: New York.
| Closely related to living African and Asian elephants (Loxodonta
and Elephas), the woolly mammoth is another classic ice-age icon.
Mammuthus primigenius originated in Eurasia about 250,000 years ago
and entered the New World over the Bering landbridge sometime thereafter.
It stood nine to eleven feet at the shoulder, and weighed four to six tons. The external appearance of this species is very well known, thanks to the discovery of numerous cave paintings in Europe and numerous carcasses and body parts recovered from the permafrost region of northern Siberia and Alaska. The woolly mammoth was covered with long hair and had a high, domed head, a humped, sloping back, and large, extravagantly curved and twisted tusks.
Unlike many other species that disappeared after the end of the Wisconsinan glaciation, woolly mammoths were most certainly hunted by humans. Remains have been found in archeological sites in various parts of Eurasia and North America. Interestingly, human predation of mammoths goes back at least 40,000 years, but the species did not disappear until the end of the Pleistocene in North America and continental Eurasia.
See also: Lister, A., and P. Bahn, 1994. Mammoths. Macmillan: USA.
| Having straighter tusks and a flatter head than the mammoth, mastodons
were as much as nine feet high at the shoulder and weighed four to five tons.
Although closely related to true elephants (Elephantidae), their evolutionary
lines separated at least 25 million years ago. A distinguishing feature of
mastodons, as compared to true elephants, is the form of their grinding teeth
(molars). Elephantids have molars made up of numerous lamellae that form highly
efficient milling surfaces, good for grinding up fibrous vegetation. Mastodons
had more primitive teeth, consisting of a shell of enamel over dentine (much
like our own molars) . Mastodon species have
been found at archeological sites, indicating that they were actively hunted
in some areas. Although mastodons became extinct more than 10,000 calendar
years ago, Thomas Jefferson thought that they must still exist somewhere in
the Northwest -- and directed Lewis and Clark to find out!
Be sure to see a mounted specimen (the real thing!) of this species
at the AMNH!
See also: Shoshani, J., and P. Tassy (eds.), 1996. The Proboscidea,... Oxford University Press: New York; Gruhn, R., and A. L. Bryan, 1984. The record of Pleistocene megafaunal extinction at Taima-taima, Northern Venezuela. In P. S. Martin and R. G. Klein (eds.), Quaternary Extinctions, a Prehistoric Revolution, pp. 128-137. University of Arizona Press: Tucson.