A pair of woolly mammoths in their natural habitat


For hundreds of years, mammoth bones found in Europe were thought to be the bones of giants. Around 300 years ago they were identified as belonging to elephants which caused more confusion. Eventually, when it was accepted that animals that differed from those seen today had once existed, the anatomist Georges Cuvier correctly proposed that the bones belonged to an extinct form of elephant. The earliest mammoths recorded date from over four million years ago, and the larger species died out a mere 10,000 years ago. The reasons for their demise remain unclear but may have involved climate change and the arrival of human hunters.

Scientific name: Mammuthus

Rank: Genus

Common names:

earth horn

Watch video clips from past programmes (3 clips)

In order to see this content you need to have an up-to-date version of Flash installed and Javascript turned on.


Discover what these behaviours are and how different plants and animals use them.

Additional data source: Animal Diversity Web

When they lived

Discover the other animals and plants that lived during the following geological time periods.

What their world was like

Ice age Ice age
The last ice age hasn't ended, the climate has just warmed up a bit causing the ice sheets to retreat. When the ice was more extensive, our climate was very different.

Fossil types

Learn more about the other animals and plants that also form these fossils.

Trace fossils Trace fossils
It's not only the actual bodily remains of dead animals and plants that can become fossils. Things created or left behind by animals can also fossilise, such as their footprints, burrows and dung.

Fossil Folklore

Mammoths have featured it our folklore - learn more our ancestors beliefs before we understood fossilisation and evolution.

BBC News about Mammoths

Elsewhere on the BBC