Mammoths were really big. There’s a reason their name was adopted into many modern languages as a tighter-reading synonym for that awkward phrase. Yes, the name of the animal came first, entering Russian at the time of the first recorded discoveries of bones in around 1600, and passing into Continental languages by around 1700. Thomas Jefferson is credited with popularizing the word “mammoth” in American English.
The Russian word for the owner of the big bones is “mamant”, derived from various indigenous Siberian words usual transcribed as something like “mamut”. The root of this word, “maa”, means Earth in these languages, and the bones were, according to the locals, those of giant burrowing ratlike creatures. Which would be way scarier than the actual animal, in my opinion, but did explain why the bones were often found buried underground.
But it takes a photograph like this one of a modern person with the preserved tusk of what looks like a big woolly to remind most of us of just how enormous these animals must have been. If you, like me, are a cartoonist who likes to tell stories about mammoths, it’s wise to take a field trip to a museum of natural history every once in a while to stand next to a skeleton of a restoration and recharge your sense of wonder. Until then, come back here once in a while to look at the man with the mammoth tusk.
This is important because the temptation to make our mammoth characters smaller than life in our drawings is hard to resist. We don’t mean anything by it, but a mammoth is hard to fit into a panel with a human sized character, and it’s even harder to show the two of them interacting. We all need the occasional reminder of the true scale. The next time I draw Kekionga’s resident mammoths, I am going to make them … really big.
(To read more about the quite fascinating history of the word “mammoth”, click here. And for a good set of basic mammoth facts, you could always check the Wikipedia. Thanks to Wolfie for finding and sending the photograph.)