Bones are at the center of every body, and they tell incredible stories. For the last 10 years, scientists at Tomsk State University in Russia have been analyzing more than 23,000 bones to learn more about the stories they tell.
The subjects those scientists were so curious about are wooly mammoths, a vanished species with an extinction story that is still sketchy. For ages scientists have struggled with the root cause of the mammoth disappearance, but new research on mammoth bones shows evidence of widespread osteoporosis, which could deliver a significant clue about what finally wiped the species out.
Mammoths were approximately the same size as African elephants today, with the addition of thick brown hair and massive curved tusks. The first known mammoths showed up around 700,000 years ago in Siberia and later expanded into North America and Eurasia. Mammoths were abundant, but the animals suddenly went extinct across the world at around the same time. The exact cause, however, is still a mystery.
Suspects include environmental changes such as warmer temperatures as well as overhunting from humans. A new study suggests the root cause of extinction could be a low-mineral diet, which scientists have found evidence of in osteoporotic bones. Osteoporosis, which is caused by the natural aging process as well as a poor diet and insufficient exercise, is a condition that weakens bones and makes them overly porous. Bones naturally break down and rebuild themselves continually, but as the body ages, the rebuilding process slows even though bone continues breaking down. This can be greatly exacerbated by malnutrition.
Scientists now wonder if climate changes affected the landscape and depleted nutritional minerals such as calcium, magnesium, sodium, selenium, zinc, and other vital elements that are essential to healthy bone, muscle, and skin. The mammoths could then have gradually suffered from mineral starvation, which led to osteoporosis and other bone health illnesses.
The bones studied in Russia were found in excavations that took place in regions with a higher mineral content, so mammoths may have congregated there in search of mineralized springs and salt licks.
Weaker and breaking bones made the mammoths less able to fend for themselves, eat, keep up with a moving herd, and ward off predators.
The study’s lead author, Sergey Leshchinskiy, says the wooly rhinoceros and cave bear likely suffered the same way.
Part of what makes osteoporosis difficult to overcome is that one of the main cures is concentrated resistance exercise, yet exercise that is intense enough to build new bone can cause injury if bones are already weak. That’s why we developed OsteoStrong, which naturally, safely, and comfortably triggers new bone growth in less than 10 minutes per week. Supervised sessions are intense enough to rebuild bone and, in many cases, reverse osteoporosis, yet are so easy that people don’t even break a sweat.
We wish the wooly mammoths had been able to access better nutrition, but a mammoth-sized OsteoStrong wouldn’t have hurt, either!