Yukon Nuggets

  • Mammoth Tusk.

  • Dawson YT. Mastodon Head (Skull) uncovered at a depth of 42 feet on #5 below A. Mack's discovery. Yukon Archives. Walter R. Hamilton fonds, #17.

1993 Yukon Nuggets

Mammoths and Mastodons


Once upon a time, the world grew cold. Got your attention? Beats another story about global warming eh! Well, about a million or more years ago, the earth began to cool. That lasted until just ten thousand years ago.

Great sheets of ice, sometimes a thousand feet thick, moved from the north, gouging out the land. It was the ice age. Somehow, these harsh conditions encouraged the development of giant mammals. Among them were the Mastodon and the Mammoth.

Both Mastodons and Mammoths were closely related to today's elephants. The Mastodon was shorter than an elephant, but more heavily built, with upward curving tusks. Mammoths ranged from six to 14 feet high at the shoulder.

Both were covered in thick reddish-brown hair. Both were vegetarians.

Mastodons originated about thirty-five million years ago in North Africa, spreading to Eurasia about twenty million years ago, and then came to North America via the Bering land bridge about fifteen million years ago.

They were followed by the Wooly Mammoth. We know what they looked like because of an amazing number of skeletons and sometimes, full animal carcasses were trapped in ice and kept frozen over the last thirty thousand years. The woolly mammoth, which was about the size of present-day Asiatic elephants, had a shaggy coat and large, curved ivory tusks.

Unlike most of the Yukon Territory, the Klondike was not glaciated in the last ice age. Thus gold nuggets, mammoth tusks and the bones of long-extinct, prehistoric animals settled to the bottom of the creeks and remained there, frozen in permafrost. In 1903, the New York Times featured an article about an amazing mammoth tusk more than ten feet long that had been found by a miner in the Klondike and brought to his Chicago home.

Hundreds of these ancient tusks have been found in the Klondike, along with the frozen remains of other primeval animals and artifacts from prehistoric peoples. The Yukon has become one of the world's major sources of fossilized woolly mammoths.

But these creatures could not cope with the rapidly changing environment and increasing human hunting toward the close of the last glaciation, and most became extinct about 11,000 years ago.



However, in 1993 came the startling discovery that dwarf woolly mammoths lived on Wrangel Island in the Bering Sea only about 4,000 years ago.




A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.

Les McLaughlin

Les McLaughlin

As storyteller, radio man, and music producer, Les proved a passionate preserver of Yukon heritage throughout his life — nowhere more evident than as the author and voice of CKRW’s “Yukon Nuggets,” from its inception until his passing in 2011.