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Mammoths Mean Ice Age

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Herds of mammoths appearing out of nowhere are one of the lesser-known side effects of prolonged cold spells.

After the dinosaurs, woolly mammoths are some of the most well-known prehistoric creatures. Unlike the dinosaurs, which have become associated in the popular imagination with the steaming jungles and volcanoes of the Mesozoic Era, mammoths are usually thought of as inhabiting cold, snowy lands (although prior to The '80s, when Hollywood Prehistory was still popular, dinosaurs and mammoths were commonly depicted in fiction as living together in a warmer environment). This is largely because the most well-known species, the woolly mammoth, lived alongside early mankind in northern Eurasia and North America during the last major Ice Age. Being physically impressive and memorable specimens of the Ice Age megafauna, and some of the first to be scientifically described, they eventually became a symbol of the Ice Age itself, and through that of the cold and rigors associated with it and the (by modern perceptions) uncivilized and barbarous state in which Ice Age humans lived.

When these shaggy elephants appear in modern fiction, they almost always do so in conditions of intense cold: outside of settings that try to hew to more realistic interpretations of these animals, you will not find mammoths living in warm or temperate lands nor near civilization. Often, they are even shown inhabiting near-Arctic conditions rather than the grassy tundra they lived in in real life. Instead, the appearance of shaggy elephants striding through knee-deep snowdrifts is often used as a shorthand of sorts to communicate that a land or period is terribly, terribly cold, and often not suited for civilization.

In general, there are three common ways in which this trope is employed:

  • If Mammoths, then Ice Age: Mammoths used to symbolize the Ice Age itself and as a visual identifier to quickly communicate that the work is set during the last great glaciation. A mammoth or herd thereof might be used to symbolize the period in a timescale or a time travel montage, while works set in the Ice Age proper will give a disproportionate amount of focus to the mammoths compared to other Ice Age megafauna.
  • If Ice Age, then Mammoths: Here, mammoths are portrayed as less a type of animals that arose in one specific glaciation, and more as much of a symptom of ice ages in general as the falling temperatures themselves. When a new ice age strikes a setting, herds of mammoths or mammoth-esque creatures appear alongside the ice and snow to show the way the world has changed.
  • Grim Up North: A fantasy-specific way this trope plays out. Being fairly recent animals in Earth's history, mammoths look enough like modern fauna not to feel too out of place in Earth-like worlds, but are exotic enough to serve as fantastical creatures alongside more traditional fantasy beasts. Mammoths are often placed in the frozen northlands of fantasy worlds, reinforcing how their homes are both extremely cold and far from civilization. If The Horde comes from here, they might use mammoths as War Elephants, to further drive home that they come from cold, wild and uncivilized places. Relatedly, mammoths and similar megafauna tend to appear as the go-to inhabitants of cold climates in settings that otherwise chiefly feature dinosaurs and their contemporaries.

Since Tropes Are Flexible, this can be extended to other shaggy elephantine mammals such as mastodons and fictional mammoth- and mastodon-like creatures, as long as their presence is used to symbolize cold and/or ice ages. Other hairy Ice Age megafauna, such as woolly rhinos, are sometimes used to similar effect, although this is far less common.

In real life, most mammoths did not live in particularly cold conditions and did not have thick coats (the only two that did were the woolly mammoth and its ancestral species, the steppe mammoth), and were very similar to modern elephants in most respects. Some of the most notable include the Columbian mammoth and the African mammoth. However, they are not as famous as their woolly cousins (since specimens can't be found preserved in icenote ), and so they never really show up in fiction. Granted, of all these species, the Columbian mammoth, Mammuthus columbi, has achieved some popularity thanks to its widespread distribution on America. And also because it was even bigger than the woolly mammoth.

As a last bit of trivia: the real-life woolly mammoths, and the mammoth genus by extension, went extinct on Wrangel Island four millennia ago, way after the end of the last glacial period (twelve millennia ago) and five centuries after the completion of the Great Pyramid of Giza (just in case you need more proof of how ancient the structure is).

See also Snowy Sabertooths, and more generally Polar Penguins, for other animals associated with frigid climates and deep snows.

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Ice Age examples:

  • K-On!: While enduring an extreme summer heat, Yui and Ritsu have an Imagine Spot about being in an arctic environment which includes a penguin, a polar bear, and a woolly mammoth.

    Asian Animation 
  • In Pleasant Goat Fun Class: The Earth Carnival episode 19, in the glacier park, a mammoth saves Wolffy from falling into a crack in the ice. Miss Earth then explains why the mammoth has fur all over its body before they bring the mammoth back to is parents.

    Card Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering: The card Woolly Mammoths, released as part of the Ice Age deck, gains a substantial boost (specifically a common ability themed around a creature trampling over its target when attacking) as long as its owner has a snow-covered land (thematically representing a land that has been covered by the ice and snow of the titular Ice Age) in play.

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes: In one of Calvin's Imagine Spots, a sudden ice age hits the world overnight, covering it in ice and snow and providing excellent sledding opportunities. Calvin realizes what is going on when he sees, besides a glacier covering a large part of his town, a herd of woolly mammoths passing by his house.
  • Foxtrot: In one Sunday strip, Paige complains to Andy about the cold and that they should raise the thermostat, which Andy refuses as heat costs money. Paige then retorts that she expects to see a herd of mastodons (not exactly mammoths, but a close enough ice age megafauna) walk through their house since it's that cold.

  • Prehistoric Earth: The final 'episode' to feature explicit rescues of the story involves the rescue team traveling to the ice age with the woolly mammoth in particular as the primary target while also allowing the team to rescue as many other ice age fauna they find as well.
  • Prehistoric Park Reimagined: The very first mission in which the rescue team travels to the ice age naturally has the woolly mammoth as the primary target for the titular park.

    Film — Animation 
  • The Boonie Bears film Blast Into the Past, after showing the warthog calf first, then pans to the woolly mammoths letting you know the story's gonna take place in the era of the Ice Age, the Stone Age.
  • Brother Bear and its sequel are set in Alaska during the ice age, and feature woolly mammoths to prove it.
  • The Ice Age series features a number of woolly mammoths as characters, including Manfred the mammoth as part of the core cast, which have come to be some of the most easily recognizable visual symbols of the movies.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Alpha (2018): One of the opening shots is a herd of woolly mammoths traveling across the steppe. A very straight example as they do not feature prominently in the story and only exist to establish the Pleistocene setting.
  • In Karel Zeman's Journey To The Beginning Of Time, a mammoth is the first prehistoric animal the main characters see, and their first indicator that they have traveled back in time to the ice age. As they continue their journey, the animals become increasingly ancient, progressing into dinosaurs and even earlier creatures.
  • 10,000 BC: Zigzagged. Mammoths appear to be native to the icy tundra where the caveman protagonist comes from, but are also tamed and used as beasts of burden by a pyramid-building civilization living in a warm desert.

  • Earth's Children is set in Europe during the last Ice Age and so naturally mammoths are featured. They appear most prominently in the third book, The Mammoth Hunters, which is set in the area that will eventually become Ukraine, with the Mamutoi people regarding mammoths as extremely important to their people. Mammoths don't show up all that much outside this book though, with other extinct creatures from the same time period getting just as much or more focus (such as cave lions, cave bears and woolly rhinos).
  • Stephen Baxter: The Mammoth Trilogy uses the beasts as view point characters to chart three specific periods in human history and our relationship with the cold.
    • Silverhair is about how humans arrived and survived in the mammoth's hunting grounds during the height of the ice age.
    • Longtusk is about the decline and extiction of the mammoths as the ice age ends. No more ice, no more mammoths.
    • Icebones features genetically engineered and revived mammoths which are used to help terraform Mars, as they are one of the few creatures which can survive in the chilly martian steppe. Mars' atmosphere being too thin to hold heat for long means using ice-adapted creatures like mammoths, and as humans abandon Mars, move back to Earth, and are implied to go extinct due to a nuclear war there, the mammoths are left alone on an icebound planet again.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger / Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: The Mammoth Guardian Beast / Mastodon Zord is seen in a snowy environment when it is summoned and can blow cold air.
  • Life on Our Planet: The one sequence set in the ice age centres around a herd of woolly mammoths being hunted by cave lions.
  • Prehistoric Park: The second episode — "A Mammoth Undertaking" — sees Nigel Marven travel back to the Ice Age to rescue its megafauna. His original intent is specifically to rescue a mammoth, and it is on these creatures, their lifestyle, their diet, their impact on their environment and the causes for their extinction that most of the segment is spent, with other animals largely restricted to brief one-off appearances. The one exception to this is an Elasmotherium, a one-horned wooly rhino the size of an elephant, that Nigel runs into by accident and also brings to the future.
  • Mammoths are a major focus in Wild New World, with “Land of the Mammoth” featuring the iconic woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) and “Canyonlands” and “American Serengeti” featuring the larger but less hairy Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi), who is also very much the series’ mascot. The mammoths' distant cousin, the mastodon (Mammut americanum) is also prominently featured, appearing in “Ice Age Oasis” and being the main elephant in “Edge of the Ice”, the latter of which also features the two mammoth species in smaller roles.
  • Walking with Beasts: The Ice Age segment, "Mammoth Journey", is as the name implies focused around the yearly migration of a herd of mammoths heading from the plains of the then-dry North Sea to the Alps and then back over the course of a year. Other creatures — Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal humans, cave lions, wooly rhinos — appear, but the mammoth herd's migration remains the main focus and framing device, with the other creatures appearing as animals the mammoths encounter or (in the case of the humans and lion) predators menacing them. In Walking with Cavemen, mammoths also appear as the neanderthals' chief prey item.

  • Dan Bull: In "Primal", he literally says "Reset the record to the Pleistocene" as the camera pans over several woolly mammoths.

  • The Twilight Histories episode "Ice Age Misery" is set during the ice age, and features mammoths at several points. In fact, the episode title card even features a mammoth.

    Video Games 
  • Carnivores: The third installment, Carnivores: Ice Age, is set in an Ice Age-type environment, so a mammoth is among the huntable animals along with a woolly rhinoceros and a saber-toothed cat. It also serves as the installment's flagship Mascot Mook and appears on everything associated with, in particular the boxart and the main menu.
  • ICY: Mammoths are featured in the game's artwork and some hunting events involve them, despite the fact that this game takes place in a new glaciation far in the future.
  • Jurassic Park Builder: The woolly mammoth is usually the second animal (first being Entelodon) you can get in the Glacier Park, which is themed around the last great glaciation despite being made for animals from the entire Cenozoic era (as well as two Mesozoic reptiles and one Paleozoic arthropod).
  • Jurassic World: The Game: The woolly mammoth is the first animal released for the Cenozoic expansion and is classified as a Snow type, which is represented by a cold tundra with some conifer trees and alpine meadows.
  • Let's Build a Zoo: Dinosaur Island: Woolly mammoths are most comfortable in Arctic enclosures.
  • Monster Hunter: The series features creatures similar to mammoths, such as the herbivorous Popos or the mighty Gammoth, which are both typically found in cold areas.
  • Pokémon: Mamoswine is partially based on a mammoth, is said to have become less common after the ice age, and naturally is an Ice-type.
  • Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time: Anthropomorphic woolly mammoths and saber-toothed cats can be seen throughout the Ice Age level.
  • Transarctica: In the game's setting, everlasting clouds have blocked out the sun and thrown the Earth into a new glacial period. As most of the world become frozen tundra, mammoths reappeared as elephants grew thick coats to adapt to the cold.
  • Plants vs. Zombies 2: It's About Time: The boss of Frosbite Caves is the Zombot Tuskmaster 10,000 BC, a robot mammoth that attacks with ice.
  • Zoo Tycoon:
    • In the original game's Dinosaur Digs expansion pack, the animals are divided in four groups based on the geological period they lived in — Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous and Ice Age (Pleistocene). Guess which species is included in the fourth period? Plus, the Mammoth is the only Ice Age species that needs to be researched (and the first DD researchable species). Also, the first non-tutorial scenario DD mission is exhibiting all four of the vanilla Ice Age animals (the game has two more Ice Age species, but they don't appear since they were added later as DLC).
    • The second game subverts this by ditching the geological period classification of the animals from the first game and the woolly mammoth has been replaced by a mastodon in the Extinct Animals expansion pack as the token Pleistocene elephant instead.

    Web Original 
  • Hamster's Paradise has the third geological epoch of the planet HP-02017 be the Glaciocene: an era of ice and snow that causes large swathes of glaciation to cover the northern and southern hemispheres. Fittingly, it is in this era that the planet's largest herbivores arise: the hammoths, mammoth-like giants that, like every other vertebrate on the planet, are actually hamsters.
  • SCP Foundation: In the case of SCP-2082, mammoths create the ice age. If a mammoth is created through cloning, the temperature drops to -10 °C within 250 meters of it, and continues to increase its range up to 1 km. It's implied that the extinction of the mammoths caused the end of the ice age, rather than the other way around.

    Western Animation 
  • Futurama: "Fun on a Bun" has Fry discovering a Lost World of Ice Age creatures, which naturally includes woolly mammoths. Plus, Fry and Bender discover an ice-preserved woolly mammoth whose meat Bender grinds up into sausages for a contest, which leads to a series of unfortunate events resulting in Fry ending up in said lost world.
  • Il Était Une Fois... l'homme: In "Le Cro-Magnon", Cro-Magnon!Pierre and some other cavemen work together to hunt mammoths in the winter. Afterwards, they cook the mammoth into meat and migrate to warmer climates.
  • Love, Death & Robots: In "Ice Age", the couple's first hint to the presence of an ice-age civilization in their fridge is when they discover a miniature woolly mammoth frozen in an ice cube.
  • The Magic School Bus: In "The Busasaurus", the class witnesses the Ice Age as they're going back in time, and there a woolly mammoth passes by the bus backwards.
  • Primal (2019): The show is set in a Hollywood Prehistory world that consists mostly of tropical jungles and savannas teeming with dinosaurs, but one episode, "A Cold Death", inexplicably takes place in a snowy wasteland and prominently features wooly mammoths.

    Real Life 

Grim Up North examples:

    Card Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering: The loxodons are a species of humanoid elephants who normally resemble the African kind and are known for being some of the most fastidious, strict and law-abiding people in the worlds they inhabit, generally gravitating towards large cities and religious hierarchies. The exception to this are the loxodons of Tarkir, who resemble humanoid mammoths and inhabit a range of high, wild and snowy mountains. These woolly loxodons live in scattered barbarian clans and tribes in the icy wilderness, in sharp contrast to the strict and orderly loxodons of other planes.
    Even among the hardiest warriors of the Temur, loxodons are respected for their adaptation to the mountain snows."Woolly Loxodon"

  • Dinotopia: While the grasslands, pastoral Arcadias, jungles and deserts that make up most of the titular island are chiefly home to dinosaurs, pterosaurs and other prehistoric reptiles, the icy peaks and valleys of the Forbidden Mountains are instead home to Ice Age megafauna such as mammoths (both woolly and imperial), woolly rhinos, giant ground sloths and saber-toothed cats.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: The far north beyond the Wall is a land of extreme cold and eternal winter, implied to be kept so by supernatural means. Besides Barbarian Tribes, shaggy giants and ice demons, it is also home to Ice Age megafauna, including herds of woolly mammoths kept as mounts by the giants. They are featured in Game of Thrones as well, during the Battle of Castle Black in Season 4 most prominently.
  • Tales of Kaimere: Steppe Mammoths were first harvested from Earth to Kaimere when Kaimere was undergoing a cool and dry period 1.5 million years ago, and they settled in the cooler Southern highlands of Arvel alongside mastodons. After Homo erectus, who were harvested at the time time, arrived in the highlands and overhunted the mastodons to extinction and nearly did the same to the mammoths, the Portal brought in megafauna from Europe around 800 thousand years ago, including more Steppe Mammoths, Palaeoloxodon, cave lions, and cave bears.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Mammoths are described in the bestiary of the Frostburn sourcebook, which is dedicated to playing in frigid arctic and high-mountain regions. The art depicts a herd of mammoths with snow-white coats, striding through a snowy landscape.
  • Ironsworn: Mammoths are native to the frozen and perilous Ironlands. They migrate south from the northern Tempest Hills during the winter, and they are a threat if provoked. They contrast the elephants of the southern Old World. Asides from being a potential enemy, the mammoth is also available as an asset. That is, your Player Character can keep and ride one.
  • Pathfinder: The aptly-named Realm of the Mammoth Lords is a northern steppe region populated by the nomadic Kellid people, who ride on mammoths and other large Ice Age megafauna. If you want to play a Barbarian Hero, this is the natural homeland for your character.
  • Warhammer:
    • Warhammer 40,000: While squiggoths — gigantic animal-fungal lifeforms used by the Orks as Beasts of Battle — usually resemble monstrous pseudo-dinosaurs, those hailing from frozen planets or other icy climates tend to have thick, woolly hair and large tusks for a generally mammoth-like appearance.
    • Warhammer Fantasy: Norsca, the local equivalent (more or less) to the real-life Viking lands, is a particularly brutal version of the Grim Up North. Most of it is wild, monster-haunted and unforgiving wilderness, inhabited only by insane demon-worshipping barbarians and all wrapped in some of the most staggeringly cold conditions in the Old World. Besides fantasy monsters such as manticores, trolls and such, it is also home to herds of enormous woolly mammoths, which the aforesaid barbarians regularly capture and train for war.

    Video Games 
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim takes place in Tamriel's Grim Up North province, the titular Skyrim. Mammoths are domesticated by giants so you can loot mammoth tusks, meat, and cheese from giant camps.
  • Far Cry Primal takes place in the Oros Valley in Central Europe, after the Ice Age, and there are plenty of woolly mammoths running around. Takkar can tame a few of them and use them as War Elephants.
  • Fate/Grand Order: This trope is played with in the Russian Lostbelt, where the planet has been trapped in an Ice Age for centuries. While no normal mammoths appear (it's too cold, even for them), the king of the lostbelt is part mammoth, and a big one at that.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: A variation. The northerly Hebra Mountains are populated by woolly rhinos. Of the many common animals to appear in the game, they are the only one based on a creature that does not currently live on Earth.
  • Star Fox Adventures: While the planet Sauria is inhabited almost entirely by tribes of various species of humanoid dinosaurs, the SnowHorn tribe that lives in Ice Mountain region is made up of anatomically realistic mammoths instead. They are the only Ice Age creatures found on Sauria.
  • Warcraft: In both Warcraft III and World of Warcraft, mammoths appear among the wildlife of the Grim Up North continent Northrend. In the latter they are even available as mounts for the players. Some variants include the woolly mammoths, which are noted to be wilder and more primal than other varieties and make for feral and cunning mounts, and white-furred ice mammoths used as mounts by the ice giants, who believe their mounts protect them from frostbite and snow blindness. The Traveler's Tundra Mammoth, meanwhile, is often sought after (and quite expensive to buy) due to including merchants and a repairman. WoW adds another real but less known ice age mammal, the woolly rhinoceros. As it happens, neither elephants nor rhinoceroses exist elsewhere in the game, although there are animals resembling them (such as the Draenor-native elekks, which look 90 per cent like elephants).

    Web Animation 
  • In RWBY, the Megoliaths are a subspecies of Grimm native to the icy continent of Solitas. They're fairly dangerous and require excessive firepower to defeat.

    Western Animation 


Video Example(s):


Mastodon brought to life

The Lemmings land in a lab, while there, they brought a full fledged mastodon, of which got on friendly terms with the little guys.

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Example of:

Main / MammothsMeanIceAge

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