New research suggests that woolly mammoths and Neanderthals might have had similar genetic traits that helped both creatures survive the extremely cold weather and deal with the challenges posed by their shared environment in the Ice Age.
In a study published in the journal Human Biology, a team of scientists from Tel Aviv University concluded that mammoths and Neanderthals, who coexisted in Europe for thousands of years during the Ice Age, most likely had molecular characteristics that facilitated their survival and helped them adapt to their environment.
“Neanderthals depended on mammoths for their very existence. They say you are what you eat. This was especially true of Neanderthals; they ate mammoths but were apparently also genetically similar to mammoths,” Tel Aviv University professor Ran Barkai wrote in a statement, as quoted by Fox News.
According to Fox News, the researchers analyzed three examples of varying genes and alleles — alternate forms of genes that are created by mutation and found in the same specific area on a chromosome — that are commonly linked to the ability to adjust to colder climates. Based on this analysis, the team discovered that both woolly mammoths and Neanderthals had enough similarities in terms of genetics to back up the argument that “convergent evolution through molecular resemblance” is possible for two seemingly different species.
Per a news release published in Science Daily, it’s highly likely that both Neanderthals and mammoths migrated to Europe from Africa, and upon arriving in Europe, ultimately adapted to the colder climates that were the norm during the Ice Age. Both species went extinct at around the same time, though the Fox News’ report went into detail about how scientists are hoping to resurrect the woolly mammoth in one way or another, unlikely as it may seem at this point in time.
Tel Aviv University professor and study co-author Meidad Kislev said that the team’s findings could be helpful to scientists hoping to conduct further evolutionary research.
“They’re especially interesting when they involve other large-brained mammals, with long life spans, complex social behavior and their interactions in shared habitats with early humans.”
Likewise, Barkai added that the possibility of mammoths and Neanderthals having genetic similarities could “open endless avenues” for researchers specializing in evolution, archaeology, and “other disciplines.” The Tel Aviv University professor was also quoted by Science Daily as saying that the research could additionally serve as a reminder that the ancestors of modern humans and elephants had a “shared history,” given that in present times, modern elephants are facing endangerment due to the “ugly human greed” for ivory.