Sunday, February 13, 2011

Did Egyptians have Pygmy Mammoths?

An Egyptian mural from the Rekhmire Tomb (c. 1479 to 1401 BCE during the XVIII dynasty) shows what appears to be a baby mammoth. The artist portrayed an elephant-like creature with lots of hair, a convex back, a high-domed head, and tusks.


Science writer Darren Nash Naish proposes the “tentative suggestion that the elephant shown in Rekhmire's tomb might actually be a dwarf Woolly mammoth. If true, this would have radical implications. It would mean that the ancient Egyptians had a trading link of sorts with far eastern Siberia, and also that mammoths were captured and then transported alive to Africa!”

Both Naish and the commentators to his web article suggest other possibilities. Could it have been a surviving pygmy mammoth from one of the Mediterranean islands? Or was the artist unclear about what Asian elephants really looked like?
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Read the post at Nash’s site: Tetrapod Zoology. 
More about Cryptozoology

17 comments:

Gordon Napier said...
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Gordon Napier said...

In the film '10,000BC' they have woolly mammoths being utilised in the building of pyramids. Quite interesting in the light of this. Egypt's pyramids were only built in 2,500 BC, though, and I seriously doubt there were many hirsute pachyderms around. However, as you say, there were still mammoths in Siberia until somewhat later, so it's not entirely impossible one was brought to Egypt.

Jonathan Mayer said...

I think it's quite obvious that this artist knew what a pygmy mammoth looked like from first-hand experience. The anatomy is too accurate to have been invented from a description (e.g. convex back, high forehead). It reveals how strongly our prejudices work on us when we can say "Well, we may never know for sure" even when the answer is staring us right in the face.

Amber said...

If not a pygmy wooly, than maybe it was a tapir?

Nick Name said...

As much as I want to believe--at least the hair can be (possibly) explained in that baby elephants have hair that disappears after the first year or so.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/rctravel/1360201368/

High forehead and concave back are less easily explained away, but the baby African elephant has a relatively convex back and, due to the juvenile features,a somewhat more pronounced forehead than adults. I'd prefer to think it's a mammoth, though.

Nick Name said...

Sorry--I messed up my concave and convex there. Should have been "convex" all the way through.

You should see how badly I mix up stalactites and stalagmites.

Kessie said...

About it being an African elephant--isn't this hieroglyphic a picture of a bunch of different exotic animals being brought to the Pharoah? Seems there's non-African animals like bears in there, too. I don't think he'd be impressed with an African elephant, so it makes sense that they'd bring him a more exotic one.

Besides, mammoths didn't go extinct THAT long ago. They're in all kinds of cave paintings, so why couldn't they have taken one to ancient Egypt? :-)

Les said...

Howzabout a boar?

Karin Corbin said...

Wiki says there was a dwarfed race of wooly mammoths living on Wrangel Island until 1700 BC. Does not seem totally impossible that it might actually have been a dwarf wooly. It might be the only documented record that increases the true date of extinction.

Christian said...

I think what is likely is that it might be related to the mediterrenean dwarf elephants, of which some lines are said to be deriving rather from the mammoth's then the elephant's line and might still have had fur. The found skeletons imply a rather convex shape of the back and a bulky skull in some species:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mammuthus_lamarmorae

jokergirl@wererabbits said...

Personally I'd say it's an anteater, unfortunate superposition and damaged parts :)

Christian said...

I just found this follow up article by Darren Naish with a great reconstruction of a syrian dwarf elephant:
Looks pretty close to the one shown on the rekhmire tomb relief, doesn't it?

http://scienceblogs.com/tetrapodzoology/2011/01/rekhmire_tomb_elephant_prob_syrian.php

David Glenn said...

Interesting. It'd be cool if that really is a pygmy mammoth, because that would mean they survived beyond the ice ages.

ivo.de.wispelaere said...

Why a baby mammoth? In this picture, the proportions between men and animals are not like in reality. Can we deduct the age of this animal from the picture?

Darren Naish said...

Hi James - thanks for the interest. But, sob, you spelt my name wrong...

James Gurney said...

Hi, Darren, sorry---fixed!

parmenterart said...

Here's an uneducated guess...perhaps the people/humans are drawn extra large for some symbolic purpose? Making the elephants look small?