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Of Mammoths and Men

A Case Study in Extinction


Nancy A. Schiller
University Libraries / National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science
University at Buffalo
Clyde Freeman Herreid
Department of Biological Sciences
University at Buffalo


The discovery of a mammoth frozen in the Siberian tundra is the backdrop for this case study, which explores theories for the extinction of the great Ice Age mammals and Homo neanderthalensis. Students research evidence for and against the different hypotheses and then discuss in class the merits of each.  The case was designed for use in a freshman evolutionary biology course, where it was used as the last case in the term after studying the general principles of evolution, genetics, and biodiversity.  Instructors of courses in anthropology and paleontology might also find it appropriate.


  • Examine the general principles and causes of extinction.
  • Explore possible causes for the extinction of mammoths, especially the "overkill" hypothesis and the climate change hypothesis.
  • Consider possible causes for the extinction of the Neanderthals, especially the replacement hypothesis and the interbreeding hypothesis.
  • Examine the recent phylogeny of humans.
  • Learn how to distinguish between speculation and evidence.
  • Practice marshaling evidence in support of an argument.
  • Examine the relative merit of fossil vs. DNA evidence.


Extinction; evolution; mammoth; mega-fauna; Ice Age; overkill hypotheis; climate change; Neanderthal; neandertal; Homo neanderthalensis; fossil

Topical Areas


Educational Level

High school, Undergraduate lower division



Type / Methods




Subject Headings

Evolutionary Biology  |   Anthropology  |   Paleontology  |  

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

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