Sunday, December 11, 2005

The mammoth and me
Woolly mammoths have always been part of my life.

At some point when I was little, someone gave me a set of plastic prehistoric animals. I don't remember getting them; I just remember them being around all through my childhood. There was a blue dimetrodon (sailbacked lizard), a brown anklyosaur (armored dinosaur), a tan smilodon (saber-toothed tiger), and a sage green woolly mammoth that I had apparently teethed on. Over the years and moves, I lost them one by one til only the mammoth remained. He still sat on my dresser when I was in college.

By then we lived in Alaska where mammoths are part of the cultural/tourist background. Placer miners in Alaska regularly unearth massive amounts of mammoth bones and ivory. Local native artists work the mammoth ivory just like they do walrus ivory. My mother has a string of ivory beads made of mammoth ivory. Some mammoth ivory is just a white as new elephant ivory, but other mammoth ivory turns brown as it ages. The layers in the ivory then stands out in contrast and it takes on a woody look. Mom's beads are a medium oak color. The darkest I've seen were like fine mahogany.

In 1986, the legistature of Alaska made the woolly mammoth the official state fossil. My friend, Mr. Whitekeys, wrote a song about it for his multi-media revue at the Fly-by-Nightclub in Spenard. Suprisingly, there aren't a lot of good songs about mammoths. I was working in a bookstore at the time, so I helped out by gathering pictures of mammoths for the slideshow that accompanies his music. At the same time, surrounded by pictures of mammoths, I learned how to draw a moderately accurate mammoth (domed head, sloping back, smallish ears, tusks curve most of the way around).

Last winter I started a longish post about the use of frozen mammoth stories in pseudoscience/pseudohistory theories. The two dozen or so mammoths that have been found with some frozen soft tissue attached have been multiplied into herds of thousands, perfectly frozen in mid-step and mid-chew with a somewhat startled expressions on their large faces. For some reason I haven't been able to pull the post together.

Carl Buell came to my rescue. Buell is a highly respected nature and science artist with a fondness for Quatrenary megafauna whose work I'd seen in places like National Geographic, though I never knew his name. He started blogging two weeks ago. I joined many others in welcoming him and mentioned that I'd like to see a mammoth picture if he had any at hand. It turns out that he has done many mammoth pictures, but sold them all to Mammoth Hot Springs and no longer owns the copyrights.

I'm not sure if I'm to blame for this, but a few days later Buell issued a promise to post a visual history of Proboscideans in North America. That would be a minimum of fifteen paintings of extinct elephants. Well, if he can take on a task like that just to amuse the blogosphere, I can whack together a few paragraphs about mammoths in Atlantis. So, there, I've said it in public. There will be no putting it off now.

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