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Walking with the Ancients: What it Means to Work with Prehistoric Bone

By William Henry December 5, 2019
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For millennia, humans walked among prehistoric woolly mammoths in their grassland homelands. These majestic and gargantuan creatures inspired fear, curiosity, and reverence in intrepid hunters and gatherers who bore witness to these massive animals. Ancient depictions of woolly mammoths on etched bone and caves paintings ages ago highlight humanity's innate need for expression, individuality, and creativity.

Woolly mammoths, especially, became an invaluable resource for sustenance and survival in early human life. Today, these extinct beings continue to foster artistry and imagination with the tusks and bones uncovered from its frozen graveyard. Our collection of luxury pocket knives feature responsibly sourced and exotic materials from all around the world, including prehistoric bone. Prehistoric mammoth bone is an evocative material that instills a deep veneration.

Behind the Myth of the Mammoth

Paleontologists and avid prehistoric bone trackers traverse harsh landscapes with howling blizzards and a limited food supply for the slim possibility of digging up prehistoric mammoth tusks and bones from the Siberian and Alaska permafrost. Modern prehistoric bone hunters can withstand bitter temperatures and painstaking labor all to find out more about our ancient brethren.

The colossal woolly mammoth is a close relative to the modern Asian elephant species. Woolly mammoths' lineage dates back almost 7 million years to predecessors who lived in the much warmer climes of Africa. Gradually and over millions of years later, the woolly mammoth's ancestors migrated to Southern Europe and eventually entered the icy terrains of Siberia.

Early mammoths migrated to North America about 1 million years ago. A genetic adaptation developed in the woolly mammoths in Yukon and Alaska around 300,000 years ago that helped their blood release oxygen, even at freezing temperatures. The last woolly mammoths went extinct about 10,000 years ago with a few last hordes surviving up to 3,000 years ago in isolated islands. Scientists believe that climate change drastically destroyed the mammoth's habitat and food supply leading up to their extinction.

Living with Mammoths

We know that Neanderthals and modern humans coexisted with woolly mammoths during the Middle and Upper Paleolithic period due to the many ancient representations of them as figurative art and paintings. Even the earliest examples of figurative art in the world feature ivory sculptures of this noble creature. For over 30,000 years the mammoth has been a symbolic figure of our coexistence.

Woolly mammoths resembled modern-day Asian elephants in many ways, except that these ancient creatures were covered in thick, brown hair, an evolutionary necessity that developed for them to survive the Arctic's frozen tundras. Their ears were small and covered with fur to prevent frostbite. Their most impressive feature was their big, curved tusks used for foraging on steppe grasslands, breaking ice for drinking, fighting, and other vital functions.

At about 13 feet high and weighing about 6 tons, woolly mammoths commanded a sublime presence. Mammoths gathered and lived near riverbanks and streams, and would coexist with early humans who built their homes near their stomping grounds. Our ancestors would use woolly mammoths for their meat, skin, bones, and other materials. These organic elements became a foundation for early tools and homes.

Home and Hearth

During the Upper Paleolithic period, hunter-gatherers would use every part of woolly mammoths to survive. Woolly mammoth bones were used to make tools and fuel for fire on the steppe plain. In Central Europe, some communities would use these bones as building materials to make homes, known today as mammoth bone dwellings.

Mammoth bone dwellings often were formed in a round or oval structure. Their walls were made of stacked mammoth bones tied together and implanted firmly in the ground. Inside each mammoth bone dwelling, there would be a central hearth or multiple hearths scattered around full of animal and mammoth bones. Communities would often have a single or various dwellings present at the same time.

Mammoth bone huts were typically found near old river terraces within deep and narrow gorges. Our ancestors would strategically set up camp between the steep plain and the river where animal herds would migrate. During the long treks for food and water, mammoths would provide many of the necessary materials needed for humans to survive these unforgiving times.

Materials of Expression

Contemporary artisans bring the woolly mammoth back to life from the Arctic plains and onto our personal effects. Bone craftsmanship endures as a rare, but expressive form of art, especially when using primordial materials. Bones that once supported these towering and indispensable creatures are now imbued in tools for everyday use.

From ancient architectural elements and tools for warfare to modern-day accessories, woolly mammoth bones provide artisans with a storied and dense material to work with. At William Henry, we work tirelessly to bring contemporary huntsmen the dark brown woolly mammoth bones to our exemplary pocket knife. The bone features a wood-grain-like pattern that evokes warmth and an undying legacy.

Our craftsmen polish and process ancient remnants such as fossil mammoth's teeth or bone. Precise handiwork and years of experience working with exotic materials allow us to inlay smooth and sleek fossil mammoth scales into the frames of some of our most exclusive pocket knives. Paired with mesmerizing hand-forged metals and a gemstone button lock, each pocket knife evokes superior craftsmanship and utility.

Our collection of luxury pocket knives exudes a classic elegance that speaks for itself. Exotic and rare materials only add to the mystery and allure of every one of our functional works of art. These unique and remarkable tools are only made possible by the wonderful and inspiring organic elements around us and beneath us. We pay homage to our ancestors' history and perseverance with these beautiful, handcrafted and ancient materials.

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