Death in Silly Ways

Swallowed by a sinkhole. Washed away by a mudflow. Drowned after falling through thin ice.

These are the fates that many unlucky mammoths suffered thousands of years ago. Now, after performing a genetic analysis on the remains from the furry victims of natural traps, a team of scientists made a striking discovery: Most were male.

Nicholas St. Fleur, The New York Times

We was sitting around, me and my friends Ug and Nutz, shooting the breeze while we waited to evolve. “You guys feel like switching from hunting and gathering to something more sustainable?” I asked.

“‘Sustainable,’” Nutz said with contempt. “Have you been reading 30 Millennia to a More Powerful Vocabulary again?”

“No, it’s just that . . .”

” . . . just that you’re a lousy shot?” Nutz continued, not letting up on the intra-species banter. You know what they say: Women compliment each other and don’t mean it, men insult each other and don’t mean it.

“Don’t you get tired of traipsing all over the place, trying to find a rotisserie brontosaurus before the sun goes down every day?”

“You should buy the large economy size,” Nutz said. “You’ll save time and money.”

“What money?” Ug asked. He’s the slowest of the three of us, but we can’t seem to ditch him. Maybe he’s smarter than he looks.

“Money is a unit of measure, a medium of exchange, a store of value,” I said, anticipating Economics 101. “Like these clam shells,” I said, digging in my pocket.

“Pretty,” Ug said, admiring my shiny objects. He’d be a sucker for wage-and-price controls if he lived long enough.

“You don’t have enough clam shells to buy drinks, much less dinner,” Nutz said. “So what are we gonna do?”

“Well, let’s think,” I said, and Nutz and I gave ourselves up to contemplation while Ug winced in pain.

“Ow,” he squealed.

“Whatsa matter, buddy?” Nutz asked.

“Thinking . . . hurts!”

“You gotta ease into it,” Nutz said. “Look at the clouds.”


“Do they remind you of anything.”

“That one,” Ug said, pointing. “Mammoth!”

Nutz and I looked and amazingly enough, Ug was right. “What are you trying to tell us?” I asked.

“Mammoth . . . big eats.”

“He’s got that right,” Nutz said. “But how are we going to catch one?”

It was my turn to crank up the grey matter. “If we want to catch a mammoth, we’ve got to think like one,” I said.

“Do you really think they think?”

“Not think think. I mean, what motivates them on an evolutionary level?”

“They need to spread their seed, man, just like every other species.”

“So, let’s work with that,” I said. “What do we do when we want a woman?”

“Depends,” Nutz said. “When I want a woman, I smile and wink at her. You–you do something stupid.”

Nutz is an outlier, a good-looking guy who had a one-man show of cave paintings at Lascaux before he had hairs on his chin. Me? I’m an ordinary schlub who will have to build a shelter or get a cave of my own before a woman will give me a second look.

“Okay, so let’s find a male mammoth who’s looking for a female, and lure him to his death,” I said.

“Ug,” Ug said. It’s his trademark expression, one that can mean many things, like “aloha” or “cool,” but I’m pretty sure he used it as a term of approbation.

“Great–so you’re going to go around giving I.Q. tests to wooly mammoths?” Nutz asked skeptically.

“The exam will be delivered on a blind basis, so no bias involved.”

“What do you suggest–No. 2 lead pencils?”

“No. I’m going to make a noise like a bitch mammoth in heat over there,” I said, pointing to a sinkhole. “The smart ones will figure it out, but we’ll dine on the dumb ones.”

“You really think an animal that big is going to fall for something that stupid?” Nutz said.

I looked off into the distance, and I seemed to hear the words of an evolutionary biologist many eons in the future. “In many species,” I said as I channeled his message, “males tend to do somewhat stupid things that end up getting them killed in silly ways. It appears that may have been true for mammoths also.”

“And why, exactly, is that Mr. Brainiac?” Nutz said.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single mammoth in possession of a tiny brain must be in want of a female.”

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