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Woolly mammoths were ancestors of the modern elephant. They evolved from the genus Mammuthus, which first appeared 5.1 million years ago in Africa. These huge, shaggy beasts went extinct more than 10,000 years ago, along with their distant cousins the mastodons.

Besides their long, shaggy coats, woolly mammoths are famous for their extra-long tusks, which measured up to 15 feet on the biggest males. As massive as they were—13 feet long and five to seven tons—woolly mammoths figured on the lunch menu of early Homo sapiens, who coveted them for their warm pelts as well as their tasty, fatty meat. From 30,000 to 12,000 years ago, woolly mammoths were one of the most popular subjects of neolithic artists, who daubed images of these shaggy beasts on the walls of numerous western European caves. These primitive paintings might have been intended as totems: Early humans might have believed that capturing woolly mammoths in ink facilitated capturing them in real life. By the end of the last Ice Age.

About 10,000 years ago, pretty much all the world's mammoths had succumbed to climate change and predation by humans. Even 10,000 years after the last Ice Age, the northern reaches of Canada, Alaska, and Siberia are very, very cold, which helps to explain the amazing number of woolly mammoths discovered mummified, nearly intact, in solid blocks of ice.