A murder mystery that dates back some eight- to twelve-thousand years may be solved through the efforts of Larry Agenbroad, a paleontologist. This is the question of who or what eliminated the pygmy mammoth (mammuthus exilis), a small and hairy elephant.
Full-sized mammoths died out about 10,000 years ago. But a horse-sized pygmy version, some five- to six-feet-tall, lived both on Wrangel Island and on the Channel Islands until later.
The February 12, 1996 Los Angeles Times indicated that Agenbroad's question about their extinction hinged on whether it was "overkill or overchill."
During February 1996, Agenbroad commenced a six-month fossil-hunting expedition to Santa Rosa Island in the Channel Islands. This was where Tom Rockwell, a geologist from San Diego State University, two years earlier had uncovered the most complete skeleton of a pygmy mammoth, estimated to be 12,840 years old.
Though extinction from hunting, upon the arrival of the Chumash Indians, has seemed the most likely hypothesis, no signs of butchering have been found. Thus climatic change has also been considered as a possible cause.
By excavating more mammoth skeletons on the island, Agenbroad hopes to settle this question. If further skeletons show evidence of predation by humans, then men killed the mammoths. If there is no such evidence, the theory of a lethal weather change becomes more convincing.