America could have been populated from Russia by hunters following mammoths across the Bering Strait into Alaska.
A study of a single mammoth that died 14,000 years ago has shown how some of the first Americans made hunting camps along their 1,000km grazing route.
Data collected by a group of scientists on a female mammoth dubbed Elma indicates that early Alaskans likely structured their settlements to overlap with areas where mammoths congregated.
This means that mammoths and early hunter-gatherers would have shared habitats in Alaska.
Humans were likely attracted to the region, which they reached by crossing the Bering Land Bridge from Russia, because of the long-term, predictable presence of the species.
A team from the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) established these connections by using isotope analysis to study Elma’s life.
One of Elma’s tusks was discovered at the Swan Point archaeological site in Interior Alaska, with further samples revealing details about the roughly 1,000km journey she took through Alaska and northwestern Canada during her lifetime.
Evidence of campfires, the use of stone tools, and butchered remains of other game were then also found along this route.
The team says this indicates a pattern consistent with human hunting of mammoths.
Audrey Rowe, a UAF PhD student and lead author of the paper, added: “Elma wandered around the densest region of archaeological sites in Alaska.
“It looks like these early people were establishing hunting camps in areas that were frequented by mammoths.”
Much of Elma’s journey overlapped with that of a previously studied male mammoth who lived 3,000 years earlier, demonstrating long-term movement patterns by mammoths over several millennia.
The researchers’ findings, which have been published in the journal Science Advances, also indicate that Elma did not die from natural causes but was killed by hunters.
Senior author Matthew Wooler, a professor at UAF, explained: “She was a healthy 20-year-old female – a young adult in the prime of life.
“Elma’s isotopes showed she was not malnourished and that she died in the same season as the seasonal hunting camp at Swan Point, where her tusk was found.”
There are certain climate change-related factors which could have contributed to this trajectory, the study adds.
First, it was the lowering of the sea level during the Last Glacial Maximum which allowed humans to cross from northeastern Siberia to Western Alaska, which is what led to early hunter-gatherers and mammoths living in the same area.
Second, changing temperatures were resulting in a shift from grass and shrub-dominated landscapes to more forested terrain, which mammoths were less well-accustomed to.
Ben Potter, an archaeologist and professor of anthropology at UAF said: “Climate change at the end of the ice age fragmented mammoths’ preferred open habitat, potentially decreasing movement and making them more vulnerable to human predation.”
UAF’s study was possible because woolly mammoth tusks “are well suited to isotopic analysis,” Professor Wooler explained.
Tusks continue to grow as the animal ages, meaning researchers can collect a chronological record of their life via the different layers.
This can be used to trace things such as location and diet, offering an insight into how the mammoth lived – even when it was alive thousands of years ago.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
“What’s the latest with Florida Man?”
Get news, handpicked just for you, in your box.