The mammoth was a common inhabitant of northern Europe and Asia during the Pleistocene Age. Various species of the elephantlike mammal crossed the Bering Strait land bridge and spread throughout most of North America.
Although the mammoth was an elephant, it was much larger than the modern elephant. The three main species that have been found in Nebraska are the Elephas primigenius, the Elephas columbi or Columbian elephant, and the Elephas imperator or Imperial elephant. Elephas primigenius had a coat of long, shaggy hair to protect it from the extreme cold of the north, and its remains are seldom found south of Nebraska. The largest, the Imperial elephant (sometimes reaching heights of 13 to 14 feet), and the Columbian elephant roamed west of the Mississippi from Nebraska to northern Mexico. Both are thought to have adapted to life on the open plains and probably had coats of hair lighter and shorter than Elephas primigenius. Tusks of the Columbian elephant curved downward first, then upward and inward. The tusks' tips crossed when the elephant was full-grown.
Early prehistoric man hunted the mammoth with primitive weapons like spears and javelins. He found the animal's ivory tusks more useful than bone for many purposes and used it in making tools and realistic etchings. Fossilized ivory has been found in Nebraska, but is of little commercial value as groundwater and soil acids have altered its composition.
Mammoth remains have been found in most Nebraska counties. One mammoth found in Lincoln County is reportedly the world's largest elephant. Displayed in the University of Nebraska State Museum in Lincoln, this mammoth, Archidiskodon imperator maibeni, was believed to have roamed the plains in the late Pleistocene period.