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The Mammoth Hunters

by T.R. Holme

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The first mammoths appeared in Europe about three million years ago. Neanderthal man arrived in Europe and western Asia something like 200,000 years ago. Russian scientists say 350,000. Neanderthal tools were primitive. They did not lack the part of the brain that enables language so it is conceivable that they spoke. They were well adapted to living in cold climates. They were smart enough to make their homes in caves and when caves weren't available they made tents of hides. They knew how to use fire to cook and keep warm. A number of Neanderthal graves have been found to contain pollen indicating that they were buried with flowers. Neanderthals were a robust ice age people with even larger brains than modern humans: 1600cc compared with our 1500cc.  One can not help but wonder what they did with all that brain power. Maybe they were poets.

Actually, it is possible that the thought about Neanderthals being poets may not be so far from the truth. The flute in the picture above was found in Slovebia's Dijbe Babe cave -- and having been carbon dated at 45,000 years old is considered to be the oldest musical instrument in the world. Not all scientists believe the bone is actually a flute though. Some consider it impossible for Neanderthals to have had enough intelligence to create a flute and attribute the holes in the bone to carnivores. It has always been the same you know. Five million years from now scientists will look at the relics from this age and wonder if our species should properly be considered "intelligent", probably deciding negatively in view of our proclivity to war and inhuman weaponry and the starvation and suffering in our world caused by greed and self-absorbtion. Nah. Neanderthal wouldn't consider music even while listening to a bird sing... Or would he?

On this thought we may wish to bring forth a new way of looking at an old debate, whether or not Neanderthal man was able to communicate verbally, spoke a language... I think it quite likely that he invented language... Because he possessed the ape-like ability of mimicry -- the ability to immitate the sounds and movements of animals and birds -- enabling him to move up to the top of the food chain because of his thereby greatly enriched hunting skills.

Palaeontologists place great emphasis upon his lithic abilities, his finely chipped obsidian blades -- but what good would those sharp blades be if he were unable to approach to striking distance? Neanderthal's greatest achievement was not so much his tool kit of sharp stones, but his tool kit of animal and bird sounds and mannerisms. And now, if you are looking for the origin of language -- and even music -- you need look no further than here. For his family cave would have been full of the the noises of humans learning to perfect their arts. Here is the birth of language, and whistles, and even flutes for that matter. Neanderthal birdsong could not help but become human music. To think Neanderthals could not create a flute in his efforts of mimicking birdsong, in all the eons they lived upon the earth, seems illogical. On the right is a famous cave painting of a shaman, uh, ... dancing ...

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For some time there was considerable debate as to whether Neanderthals hunted or whether they simply scavenged. 2002 brought a significant revelation, in Thetford, Norfolk, England Neanderthal axes were found alongside the bones of three and possibly four mammoths, in addition to woolly rhinoceros, and reindeer. One of the axe heads pictured above was actually found inside a mammoth skull. The slaughter is thought to have taken place 50,000 years ago. The site marks the first time Neanderthal evidence has been discovered in Britain. 50,000 years ago the iceage was going strong and the icecap had consumed immense quantities of the ocean, lowering the sealevel many hundreds of feet. Consequently Britain was united with the continent at this time. 2003 brought more revelations. A skull and jawbone found in a Croatian cave were carbon dated to 28,000 years ago. Scientists subjected the bones to stable-isotope analysis, the result of which proved that Neanderthal man ate an almost exclusively meat diet, as rich as that of lions and bears of their time. So, as recently as 26,000 BC Neanderthal man was getting along quite well, better than surviving.

Somewhere between 40,000 and 30,000 years ago Cro Magnon man left Africa and came to Europe and Asia. Evidence indicates that for several thousand years Neanderthal man and Cro Magnon man coexisted. There is even some evidence of breeding between the two very different races. Bones of a boy were found in Portugal in 1998 that carbon date to an age of 22,000 BC. The child has features of both Neanderthal and Cro Magnon. So, at least in Iberia the Neanderthal speices of humans seems to have continued until much more recently than has previously been supposed.

The drawing on the right below comes from the Isturitz Cave in SW France. Actually though, its provenance is considered by scientists to be more likely Magdalenian and therefore an image of Cro Magnon man -- On the other hand other sources speak of a flute was also found in the Isturitz cave which carbon dates 28,000 years old...

Cave paintings in the Cougnac cave of Southern France have been carbon dated to around 25,000 years BP, perhaps older. Paintings of humans are rare in Paleolithic cave art. But the Cougnac cave has two.

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One of them is on the left. In both images a human is being wounded by spears or arrows. In fact it appears they are being wounded while they flee, like deer or any hunted creature. Do the pictures depict a shamanist ritual? Or do they depict the dimise of the the Neanderthal?

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People often wonder how it is that mammoths manage to live in lands so far north, for instance in the most northerly part of Siberia. After all, they are cousins to the elephants aren't they? Don't they belong in warm places like Africa and India? They must spend most of their day grazing to consume to huge amounts of food they need to survive. How did they manage to find so much food in the ice age so far north? The answer is the way the ice cap transformed the vegetation. When the icecap moved south the intense freezing killed the broad-leaved forests in the periglacial zone (the area near the glacier) and replaced them with tundra-steppe conditions: pine trees and willows and shrub birches and vast cereal grasslands. Mammoths  and hoved animals could graze and get fat in such grasslands. They also ate the shrubs and young willows. And the river valleys were lush with herbacious vegetation. The tundra steppe ecosystems of the river flood plains of the Ukraine were excellent for mammoths.

Rivers were the problem even before the ice cap began to melt, huge rivers: the Dniester, Dneiper, Don , the mighty Volga and the ancient river that once fed the Aral lake.  To call them merely "impassable torrents" belies their gargantuan scale. Even mammoths could not have crossed the Volga as it raged. They would have been swept away like tiny twigs. Mighty rivers kept families of mammoths within their boundaries. During the last part of the last glacial age the mammoth hunters of the Ukraine found their land to be a hunters paradise. Their prey could not escape.

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Camps of the Ukraine mammoth hunters have been found. They are marked on the map above. Kapova Cave was probably not a hunting camp, but a place they inhabited at times and drew pictures on the walls, of mammoths and other creatures.  Huts in Kostienki must have served an entire tribe considering their size. One was 190 feet long by fifteen feet wide. Big as mammoths were it would take a lot of them to feed a tribe that size over the years. No wonder mammoths disappeared. The mammoth hunters interlocked the jaw bones of the mammoths forming a circle and built sturdy huts like the one in the picture above right. A single small jaw bone weighes over 220 pounds. The entire bone hut weighs about twenty tons. Each hut contains bones from about 95 mammoths. Mammoth hides were stretched over the bones, mammoth hides also served as flooring. Mammoth hides also had to be extremely heavy. A wet freshly slaughtered skin must have weighed over a thousand pounds. How did prehistoric man carry such heavy objects long distances? This would not have been a problem if they rode animals, horses, raindeer, cattle, bison, or even mammoths... (About the only animal of that timeframe that I am positive they didn't ride is the cave bear and the cave cat... And I am not even sure they couldn't have ridden those -- if they raised them from cubs! ) (Ha!)

About 70 Mammoth bone huts have been found along the rivers of the Ukraine, mostly the Dneiper. Some of the huts have been carbon dated over 20,000 years old, others around fourteen thousand years.

These hunters camps were efficient slaughtering industries. Considering the great amount of mammoth bones on these sites we must become aware that humans were mowing down mammoths like tornados. Cro Magnon's primitive obsidian spear heads had edges that could be ten times sharper than a modern surgeon's scalpel. They slid easily and surely straight to a mammoth's heart. Inevitably, eventually there were no mammoths left to eat. All gone -- forever. Scientists are quick to add that the extinction of most of the large animals of Europe and Asia did not come about quite so simply. There were other significant factors to the equation. The long ice age came to a close with the final centuries of the Late Pleistocene and the weather began to warm. Creatures that had evolved to live in artic conditions could not so quickly adapt to lakes where there once were vast meadows, forests where once there existed unending miles of cereal grains. There was less to eat, and less acres to cover searching, especially with the swollen torrents of rivers running from the melting icecap. They were trapped in a land full of excellent human hunters. Extinction was inevitable.

Many scientists expand broadly and in detail about the impossibility of the human race alone being responsible for the extinction of the mega-fauna, preferring to blame it almost entirely on the changes that resulted with the end of the ice age. It seems to me it would be like locking a hunter in a barn with an elephant but no weapons, for a year. At the end of the year make a change. Raise the temperature ten degrees -- and give the hunter a sixty calibur machine gun. The clovis points of the new age were so high tech and sharp and sleek they can easily be compared to a sixty calibur machine gun. The ten degree improvement in temperature just meant the hunter could wear a Hawiian shirt while doing the deed, that's all.

Also it is said sometimes that man at the end of the paleolithic age was still basically a scavenger, despite his clovis points -- that there is no real proof that he killed that many mammoths. They all just keeled over on their own, went extinct on their own... The opinion being that Mr mammoth was too much of a beasty for Cro Magnon man to tackle with any hope of success... My answer to that is to consider what humans did to the cavebear. First, stop for a minute and think for yourself -- answer this question: You are alone in a deep dark cave. Your only weapon is a sharp rock on the end of a stick. There is some creature in there with you. It is aware of you. It might be a horse. It might be a cow. It might be a goat. -- Or it might be a giant angry bear, twice the size and weight of a modern grizzley!! There you are in the total dark with just a stick and a pointed rock. What do you think? What do you do? What Cro Magnon man did in that situation is significant. There was a time when 20 foot tall cave bears occupied every single mountain cave in Europe and the mid-east. Slowly but surely the human race drove them from the caves and eliminated them until the last cave bear was slaughtered around 8000 BC. There were huge fights between humans and cave bears involving many members of each species, one place in Yugoslavia in particular where twenty bears battled a large number of humans. Bears skeletons are found with spearheads in their rib cages. So, I have to conclude that if primitive man was capable of defeating the cavebears time after time after time he certainly would have no problems hunting mammoths.

The question is what was mankind to do when all the mammoths were dead? We know from the bones found in the hunters camps that practically the only thing they ate was mammoth.What were these mammoth hunters to eat when all the mammoths were gone? What would life be like for them?


The people of the ancient Mother saw Her as the Great Womb of Life. Humans had a womb they came from, rather like the cave they came from. The family lived in a cave, came out of the cave to take part in life. Each creature on earth had a Womb of Life: the mammoths came from the Great Mammoth Womb of the Universe, the cavebear came from the Great Cave Bear Womb of the Universe, the deer came from the Great Deer Womb of the Universe. Each Womb was Goddess in its own right, goddess of the life and purpose of its children. So primordial man lived in a world of multiple Womb Dieties. Each species came from the great womb of the Mother Goddess. Each species was therefore empowered with qualities of the Great Mother and deserved respect. All “pantheism” originates in the Goddess/Mother belief systems of the first humans who were aware of the sanctity of all the parts of the Great Tree of Life -- the Great Mother that is the entire Universe in One.

Ancient people’s were actually in communication with the other species. They were able to look into each other’s eyes and telepath thoughts. Today our awareness of the oneness of life has deteriorated to the point where humans consider themselves supreme beyond the animals. We no longer believe interspecies communication is possible -- or necessary – in that the creatures of the earth supposedly exist soley for the use of humans. We think animals are so far beneath humans in value that they could not be capable of intelligent thought. But all this is a relatively new phenomenon.

"The present adherents of the Judaic monotheistic religions and of [their] post-Christian substitutes... are, all of them, ex-pantheists. This historical fact suggests that there might be some hope of their reverting to the pantheistic attitude, now that they have become aware of the badness of the consequences of the monotheistic lack of respect for nature." (Arnold Toynbee, Choose Life, p. 298.)


When the Mammoths died out the human race had to think about what they had done wrong. Not all the humans of the earth were mammoth hunters. Not everyone agreed with the wanton distruction of the harmless creature. When they finally realized that there were no more mammoths left on earth it must have struck a nerve deep inside the human race. They would hold the ones accountable who had committed this crime. They had killed every last mammoth and not even left two to breed. Is it possible that humans could not just entirely shrug this off and go on with their lives as if nothing had happened? Mammoths had been an important part of human existence ever since humans first came to Europe and Asia from Africa. And then all of a sudden they were all GONE! What an emptiness must have been felt in the hearts of the people. They must have realized they MISSED the mammoths.

The mammoth hunters were the swashbucklers of their day. On a huge scale. Men with sharp long swords and spears. Men strong enough to lift heavy pieces of mammoth meat and mammoth bone. Men with muscles on their muscles. Men who were not afraid of anything, be it mammoth, or lion, or rhinoceros. Men who went where they wanted and no one stopped them. These were the sort of men who had killed every last mammoth with no thought for the future. And these were the men that the common people considered to have sinned against the Mother Earth. You could see it in the eyes of the gentle people. The gentle people in fact were busily creating an entirely knew cosmology in their hearts and minds that would explain how fellow human beings could become so blind and heartless as to utterly destroy the greatest creature of all until it ceased to exist. 

The mammoth hunters did not like being accused and shunned. And they did not like the fact that the peons of existence were making a case against them, regarding them as unwise degenerates to some degree. They had always thought of themselves as HEROS, as the BRAVEST OF THE BRAVE. And now, here were FARMERS and SCRIBES  and PRIESTESSES snubbing them and even rebuking them. As if the worthless little mice could INTIMIDATE the mighty cats of the earth!


It is wrong for us today to think people of ten thousand years ago were not capable of feeling the loss of the mammoth species, or of putting the blame on those whose ugly greed was the cause.

There is an altar in Chauvet cave with a cave bear skull sitting on it. Skulls and bones of the great lion are scattered everywhere around the site of Dolne Vestonice. The horns of great bison are dominant upon the walls of Catal Huyuk. The Goddess of Catal Huyuk has a lion on either side of her throne. Chauvet_cavebear_altar.JPG (16136 bytes) Carvings of horses are perhaps the most common art of all, beautiful creations vividly portraying our ancestor's great respect and admiration for the animal. All these creatures sure seem to have been worshipped in the primordial religion of our ancestors.

If palaeoanthropologists are correct about primitive man perceiving the great creatures around them as gods then it is possible that primordial man's most important god/goddess was the mammoth. There was no animal bigger. There was no animal that affected them more... These men and women at times stood close enough to peer deep into a mammoth's eyes and share communication...What was spoken???

Surely such intense feelings would pass into the deepest spiritual beliefs and religions of their children's children's children's children's children's children's children's children. If indeed the mammoth was considered to be their strong and gentle god -- how must they have felt at the creature's extinction when they realized they had killed their God?

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Some interesting links:

The case for the Neanderthal flute

Half Neanderthal - half Cro Magnon baby found in Portugal dated to 24,000 BP


Go on to the next page: The Domestication of the Horse

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Little known factoid: Most Neanderthals were named "Bubba".


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