The woolly mammoth coexisted with humans during the Pleistocene but went extinct at the end of the epoch, approximately 10,000 years ago. The woolly mammoth’s relationship to modern elephants remains largely uncertain, and the reasons for its extinction are also a mystery. Nevertheless, scientists have ideas about their evolution and extinction and ancient genomic data from woolly mammoths serves as evidence to either confirm or challenge those hypotheses.
In the 1990s, two independent teams of researchers claimed to have sequenced DNA from the bones and tissues of several mammoth specimens. By adapting a new technique called the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and employing new protocols to avoid or detect contamination, both teams of researchers were able to claim that they had recovered the first DNA sequences from a mammoth. These studies suggested that nearly 50,000-year-old DNA could be recovered reliably.