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Frozen Mammoths
Graham Kendall


For centuries, stories have been told of frozen carcasses of huge,
elephantlike animals called mammoths,1 buried in the tundra of
northeastern Siberia.2 These mammoths, with curved tusks sometimes
more than 13 feet long, were apparently so fresh-looking that many
believed they were simply large moles living underground. Some
called them "ice-rats."3 People thought that when mammoths
surfaced and saw daylight, they died. Dr. Leopold von Schrenck,
Chief of the Imperial Academy of Sciences at Petrograd (today's
St. Petersburg, Russia), published the following account in 1869:
"The mammoth . . . is a gigantic beast which lives in the depths
of the earth, where it digs for itself dark pathways, and feeds on
earth . . . . They account for its corpse being found so fresh and
well preserved on the ground that the animal is still a living
one."4 Some even thought rapid tunneling by mammoths produced

This was an early explanation for the frozen mammoths. As people
learned other strange details, the theories multiplied.
Unfortunately, theories that explained some details could not
explain others. In fact, some proposed explanations, such as the
one above, appear ludicrous in light of new knowledge.

To learn what produced the frozen mammoths, we must first
understand much of what is known about them. This is summarized
immediately below. From this we will distill the key details
requiring an explanation. Then we will examine nine proposed
theories. While many will seem initially plausible, their flaws
will become apparent when we systematically compare how
effectively they explain each detail. Finally, we will see that
one theoryãthe hydroplate theoryãintroduced in the preceding
section, best explains all the details.

It is our attitude toward free thought and free expression that will determine our fate. There must be no limit on the range of temperate discussion, no limits on thought. No subject must be taboo. No censor must preside at our assemblies.

–William O. Douglas, U.S. Supreme Court Justice, 1952

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