Mammoths In Mythology And Folk Beliefs

Mammoths In Mythology And Folk Beliefs

Animals have an important role in the daily life of our ancestors. One of these is the mammoths, which unfortunately we cannot see alive.

Mammoths In Mythology And Folk Beliefs

Mammoths… They are both interesting and very frightening animals. Yeah, we’re not talking about Manny and Ellie.*

Mammoths, a genus of the Elephantidae family, have always been a frightening animal for Stone Age humans due to their enormous size. However, hunger has overcome fear. They were one of the animals that met the protein needs of both Neanderthals and modern humans. In addition, mammoth furs were used to keep warm. Moreover, these furs were quite functional. Because mammoths had long hair during the Ice Age due to climatic adaptation.

Mammoths were one of the most hunted animals in the regions close to the north. In fact, one of the two prominent hypotheses for why mammoths went extinct is that they were over hunted. The other is climate change, also known as global warming.

Rouffignac Cave, France

Mammoths appeared in the Zanclean Age of Pliocene Epoch (about five million years ago). This means that they shared the same earth with all human species, from homo habilis to homo sapiens. However, most of the mammoths disappeared in the Preboreal period, about 10,300 to 9000 years ago. Only a very small population survived on Saint Paul Island in Alaska until about 5750 years ago and on Wrangel Island in Russia until 4000 years ago.

Myths And Folk Beliefs

As a result of the interaction between mammoths and humans, mammoths left deep psychological scars on Stone Age humans. This is evident from both cave paintings and mythological narratives. There are many beliefs about mammoths and mammoth-like mythological creatures in North American, European and Turko-Siberian mythologies. 1

Considering the Siberian climate, it should come as no surprise to us that many mammoth remains have survived to this day in the frozen soil. However, the efforts of the local people to make sense of the mammoth remains led to the formation of new myths and folk beliefs. Some mammoth remains found in Russia have been interpreted by locals as war elephants of Alexander the Great.

One of the interesting beliefs about mammoths is found in Turkic mythology. According to the folk beliefs of Dolgans and Yakuts living in Siberia, they were taken underground to serve Erlik Han, the underground god in Turkic mythology. The mammoths, who do not want to serve Erlik Han and try to escape to the earth, are punished by freezing and sentenced to death. Mammoth bodies found in the Siberian taiga are interpreted as punished mammoths. So, according to the folk beliefs of shamanic Dolgans and Yakuts, mammoths did not actually disappear. They continue to live underground to serve Erlik Han. If you call it living…

Notes

  • Manny and Ellie: Mammoths in Ice Age films.

  1. Mythological Beings Based On Mammoths, Petr JANDACEK & Louise JANDACEK^