The Woolly Mammoth, mammuthus primigenius, roamed Alaska in large numbers during the last Ice Age. While most of Canada and parts of the Northern U.S.A. were covered with up to 10,000 feet of ice, approximately two-thirds of Alaska was ice free. Vast expanses of grasslands and shrubs were the characteristic habitat available; much different from the boreal forest of today. Mammoths, horses and bison shared the habitat with caribou, musk oxen, short-faced bears, ground sloughs, giant beavers and predators like the dire wolf, lion and saber-toothed cat. Although most species of Pleistocene mammals are extinct, others survive to the present, including most of the common big game animals of Alaska such as the moose, caribou, Dall sheep, musk ox black and brown bear.
The woolly mammoth became extinct in Alaska about 11,000 years ago. Scientists can only speculate why, but prevalent theories are that changes in climate and habitat caused the mammoth to disappear. Perhaps extinction was contributed to by primitive man, since human hunting artifacts are occasionally found with mammoth remains in Alaska.
Mammoth are found in many places in Alaska. Gold miners commonly find ivory tusks and bones while removing overburden to reach the gold-bearing gravel below. The gold mines near Fairbanks produced a wealth of Pleistocene mammal fossils which are in museum collections around the world. Mammoth ivory, teeth and bones are also found along riverbanks where the rivers are running through deposits laid down during the Pleistocene Era. The color of the ivory depends upon the source of mineralization and the type of soil in which it was preserved. Ivory preserved frozen in sand or ice, is still white or lightly colored just as it was when the mammoth wore it.
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