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No. 95: Sep-Oct 1994

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Dwarf mammoths in ancient egypt?

Dwarf mammoths may have survived in northeastern Siberia into historical times. (SF#87) Given this possibility, B. Rosen wonders whether the ancient Egyptians might have known of them. He points to some evidence that they might have. For example, one scene painted on the tomb of one pharaoh represents tributes brought from afar to Egypt, including a parade of exotic animals. One of these animals is an obvious bear. This animal would have intrigued the pharaoh because bears and ancient Egyptians did not coexist. Just as exotic to the pharaoh would have been the miniature elephantid following just behind the bear in the painting. It was about the same size as the bear. Since this elephantid was depicted with large tusks, it was definitely not an immature. It also displayed the peculiar domed skull typical of mammoths and which is absent on African elephants. Could it have been a late-surviving dwarf mammoth brought all the way from Siberia?

Of course, there are alternative interpretations. Asian elephants do have domed skulls, and the artist could have deliberately drawn the elephantid at a reduced scale. However, other animals are realistically sized.

(Rosen, Baruch; "Mammoths in Ancient Egypt?" Nature, 369:364, 1994.)

From Science Frontiers #95, SEP-OCT 1994. 1994-2000 William R. Corliss