Mammoth Populations Decreased While Horse Populations Increased in Europe during the Late Pleistocene

Anatomically modern humans hunted mammoths in Europe over 34,000 years ago. There is plenty of archaeological evidence for this, but the evidence gets scarcer after this date. A recent study places the blame for this decline in mammoth populations on humans. Scientists analyzed the chemical isotope ratios in the bones of mammoths, horse, red deer, caribou, and wolf from a time period dating between 34,000 years BP-23,000 years BP. They determined the environment favorable to mammoths remained intact during the time period, yet mammoth populations declined significantly. Climatic changes were minimal. Therefore, the only explanation for this decline in mammoth populations was overhunting by humans. People likely decimated populations by focusing on the juvenile individuals. This might also explain the scarcity of the scimitar-toothed cat in the fossil record after this date in Europe. The scimitar-toothed cat specialized in hunting juvenile mammoths, and their decline coincided with the decline of their prey.

A scientific study determined mammoth populations in Western Europe declined beginning about 34,000 years ago. Scientists believe overhunting by humans “decimated mammoth populations.” Horse populations increased during this time period because more food became available for them when there were fewer mammoths. The environment remained stable during this time period.

This study found a great overlap in the diets of mammoths and horses. More food was available for horses following the decline of mammoth populations, and horse populations increased during this time period. Eventually though, humans overhunted horses too. The bones used from this study were from Germany and France, and it was an extensive study with a large sample size. It shows how humans impacted landscapes even before we were common.


Drucker, D.; et. al.

“Tracking Possible Decline of Woolly Mammoth during the Gravettian in Dordogne (France) and the Ach Valley (Germany) Using Multi-Isotope Tracking (13 C, 14 C, 15 N, 34 S, 18 O)”

Quaternary International Mar 2016

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: