Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center
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What’s the difference between a mammoth and a mastodon?
In North America, mammoths and mastodons lived side-by-side. Mastodons were shorter and stockier than mammoths, with thicker bones and differently shaped tusks. But diet was the major difference between the two animals. Mammoths had molars with low ridges that were well suited for grinding grasses. Mastodons, however, had molars with a few large bumps, perfect for shredding bark, twigs and leaves.

Are elephants descended from mammoths?
Elephants, mammoths and mastodons are all cousins; none descended from the others. Their family tree can be traced back 55 million years when the proboscidean order originated in Africa. Trunks and tusks are the hallmark of proboscideans (pronounced pro-bo-SID-e-ans).

Did dinosaurs live at the same time as mammoths?
No. Dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago. At that time mammals were not much bigger than cats. Mammoths and mastodons were among the largest mammals ever to have lived on land. The first mastodons appeared about 25 million years ago and the first mammoths appeared about 5 million years ago. Elephants appeared at the same time as mammoths.

Did humans live at the same time as mammoths?
Yes. Modern humans appeared about 100,000 years ago and mammoths went extinct about 4,000 years ago. Scientists believe human hunters banded together to catch mammoths and mastodons. Mammoth skeletons have been found with spear points lodged between their bones. Cave paintings in France suggest hunters may have dug holes to trap mammoths. Scientists believe one mammoth could feed 25 people for about a month. But people valued mammoths for more than just meat. About 70 huts have been found that were built of mammoth bones more than 18,000 years ago. Mammoths also inspired art including jewelry, carvings and cave drawings.

Why did mammoths and mastodons become extinct?
Scientists have two main theories. One is climate change. About 14,000 years ago the Earth had a heat wave. Even a few degrees’ difference in temperature can be enough to change what trees and grasses can grow and alter an animal’s food sources. Other scientists believe humans hunted mammoths and mastodons to extinction. These animals usually vanished from an area after large groups of humans arrived. Large animals are slow reproducers, so any increase in the death rate would have reduced mammoth herds quickly.


  • A Columbian mammoth could eat 500 pounds of vegetation a day
  • The Ice Age (Pleistocene Epoch) began 2.5 million years ago
  • A Columbian mammoth could weigh 10 tons
  • A mammoth typically lived about 60 years
  • It has been 4,000 years since the last mammoths roamed the Earth
  • Mammoths and modern day elephants share 99.4 percent of their genes