Central European Late Pleistocene Woolly Mammoths: Insights from Zooarchaeology, ZooMS, Stable Isotope and aDNA data.


Ancient DNA from late Pleistocene woolly mammoths has uncovered previously unknown migrations and mitochondrial clade replacements prior to the extinction of the species. Despite recent discoveries of additional maternal clade replacements in Europe, previous work has led to uneven sampling across Eurasia by focusing on North East Eurasia and North America. Furthermore, most studies have focused on large scale population dynamics only, thus overlooking possible site-level changes. In this study we have successfully utilised a multi-method species identification screening (Zooarchaeology, ZooMS, Stable Isotopes, aDNA) of fragmentary remains of megafauna from late Pleistocene Central Europe. This cross-validation of species level identification of morphologically unspecific bone fragments identified as ‘mammoth/rhino sized’ was performed using a laboratory workflow requiring minimal sampling. We generated twenty woolly mammoth mitochondrial genomes and a subset of complementary stable isotopic data from four sites that have previously shown unusual palaeoecological or skeletal characteristics of the local woolly mammoth populations. Comparing mitochondrial clades to radiocarbon dates shows continuity in maternal lineages at each site located in Germany or Poland, indicating that maternal clades are not related to the unusual characteristics of two sites. Previously, the two clades that occupied Europe were considered to have been geographically and temporally separate. Our data suggests that it was more likely that the two clades overlapped and possibly coexisted, but why one clade ‘survived’ over the other remains unclear. This highlights the need for greater understanding of intra-species population loss and replacement prior to the woolly mammoth extinction.

February 20, 2017
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

I gave a talk about my MS.c. thesis work on integrating Stable isotopes, ZooMS and mitochondrial genome capture of late Pleistocene woolly mammoths from central Europe.