French Scientists Puzzle over “Helmut” the Marne Mammoth

By |2023-02-06T15:06:59+00:00November 5th, 2012|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories|2 Comments

Fossilised Mammoth shows Evidence of Neanderthal/Mammoth Interaction

A team of French scientists from the public institute responsible for protecting the archaeological heritage of France have been busy excavating an almost complete fossil of a Woolly Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) that has been found near to the river Marne.  A spokesperson for the National Institute for Preventative Archaeological Research (INRAP) stated that such a discovery was extremely rare in France as only three such near complete specimens had been discovered in the country since 1859.

Woolly Mammoth

The adult Mammoth has been nick-named “Helmut” by the research team.

Isolated Mammoth bones and teeth have been found in France, the remains of prehistoric elephants that once roamed this part of Europe, a small fragment of their extensive range across the northern hemisphere, but the discovery at Changis-sur-Marne in the  Île-de-France region in north-central France represents a single, almost entire individual skeleton.  Initial examination of the fossil material revealed shards and chips of flint amongst the bones.  The French team have speculated that these flakes were most probably from the stone tools of Neanderthals.  Although at this stage it is uncertain whether the Mammoth was killed by a hunting party or whether a group of Neanderthals took meat from the carcase.

“Prehistoric Battle” Circa 200,000 Years Ago?

Pleistocene Mammoth fossil found at Changis-sur-Marne.

Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur

Analysis of Shards of Flint

Analysis of the shards of flint may provide clues as to how the stone chips got there and the bones themselves may reveal evidence of injury caused by flint spears or perhaps distinct cut marks where the meat would have been taken off the bone.  Researchers hope to be able to date the specimen accurately.  At the moment it is suggested that the bones may be up to 200,000 years old, or perhaps from an animal that lived just 50,000 years ago.

The circumstances of the animal’s death will also be investigated.  It remains unclear as to whether this animal drowned, whether it was trapped in mud, or the victim of a successful hunt by Neanderthals.

An Important Discovery

This French discovery is making vertebrate palaeontologists who specialise in the study of Pleistocene Epoch mammals very excited.  The flint flakes indicate interaction between the Mammoth and a human species, such finds in palaeontology are extremely rare.  In the Calvados region of Lower Normandy (Basse Normandie), scientists excavated the partial remains of an ancient, straight-tusked elephant (Elephas antiquus), the fossilised bones of this extremely large elephant, distantly related to the modern, extant Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), showed signs of having been cut by stone tools.  Evidently, a party of human hunters scavenged this carcase.  Scientists suspect that here to, as with the Woolly Mammoth of Changis-sur-Marne, the butchery was carried out by Neanderthals.

A Replica of a Woolly Mammoth and Calf

Mojo Fun Woolly Mammoth models.
Woolly Mammoth adult and juvenile models (Mojo Fun).

Two other sites are known from the Middle Palaeolithic of western Europe (the second sub-division of the Old Stone Age), both in Germany, where evidence of a human species have interacted with prehistoric elephants.  In both the German cases the elephant species concerned was a Woolly Mammoth.  The French team in collaboration with German researchers are hopeful that their River Marne discovery will help to build up a picture regarding the hunting and survival skills of Neanderthals.

Studying the Flint Flakes

Our species being responsible for the flint flakes found in association with the Changis-sur-Marne Mammoth has not been completely ruled out.  Homo sapiens may have reached western Europe around 50,000 years ago so it remains possible that modern humans could have interacted with this particular Woolly Mammoth if it had lived around 50,000 years ago.  The French research team hope to use radiometric dating in combination with a stratigraphic analysis of the surrounding matrix to accurately date the fossil material.


The quarry site at Changis-sur-Marne may look like the surface of a strange alien planet with the mounds of excavated material and bare rock exposed at the site but the research team are determined to extract as much information about the Mammoth and the environment in which it lived as possible.  The fossilised bones of the Mammoth were originally found by chance as archaeologists excavated the remains of a settlement dating back to the Roman occupation of Gaul.  Once it had been determined that the bones found did not represent those of livestock the Regional Directorate of Cultural Affairs (DRAC) was alerted and a specialist team from INRAP was dispatched to investigate the site.

Once the excavation at the quarry has been completed, the fossilised bones will be sent to a museum laboratory for further preparation and it is hoped this specimen will form part of a museum exhibit, perhaps in the Natural History Museum of Paris.

To view the range of prehistoric animal models including Woolly Mammoth replicas in the Mojo Fun series: Mojo Fun Prehistoric and Extinct.