How to

16 September 2016

Examining the Insulation Properties of a Woolly Mammoth Jacket

A year ago I saw an amazing fur coat, just before I went to buy it I realised that it was £998 (yeah, I still remember the exact price) so I bailed at that stage.

The point is I looked great in that fur coat; buying one today is done so in vain.

But it wasn’t always like that. It was, and in certain areas still is, used as a means to insulate your body, to keep you warm through the bitterly cold weather.

So, if we revert back to this philosophy, the best fur coat would be made from an animal that lived through unbearably cold conditions. What better animal to choose from than one that lived through an ice age?
That’s right; we’re all thinking of it, it’s even got a whole movie about it in surviving through the ice age – a Woolly Mammoth. So, how insulating would a Woolly Mammoth coat be?

Seeing as Woolly Mammoths were hanging around during the ice age, it makes sense to consider their fur as one of the top contenders for the most insulating fur coat.

How is a Woolly Mammoth’s fur structured?

The Woolly Mammoth’s coat was similar to that of a Musk Ox:

It’s so similar that Musk Ox pelts were used to simulate Mammoth pelts in the movie: 10,000 BC.
From the outside going in, the mammoth’s coat began with a 12 inch skirt of long bristly hair called guard hair. Beneath that they had a woolly undercoat, then an inch of oily skin and finally 3-4 inches of fat. All together that was what kept them nice and warm.

The internal body temperature of a Woolly Mammoth was around 38°C. So their body temperature was relatively similar to ours. The difference is they had to endure the climate of the ice age.

So if we could make a Woolly Mammoth fur coat, how would we do it?

Fur coats are made by tearing the skin from the animal, the fur isn’t removed from the skin. As the mammoth’s skin was an inch thick it could be a little bit clunky when slipping into the ice age-proof garment, so that alone would provide a fair bit of insulation.

The outer layer of fur is extremely long so this would either be shortened or cut away all together as there is more fur beneath anyway.

As I’ve already mentioned, the structure of their layers of fur is super similar to that of a Musk Ox.
A Musk Ox’s fur is actually used by the Eastern Canadian Inuit, the Inuktitut. They don’t normally use the outer layer of fur. Instead they use the layer beneath that to make wool, which is the rarest fibre in the world.
Imagine then how amazing, how valuable, mammoth wool would be, even if they were still around. 

The Musk ox isn’t endangered, but they’re still not really hunted, not even for their fur. Neanderthals used to hunt Woolly Mammoths; they used pretty much every part of it including the skin, fur and tusks.

Today, we don’t need all those things to survive, hence why the animal with the most similar fur to the Woolly Mammoth isn’t hunted.

So, if we could make a Woolly Mammoth garment it would most likely be a woolly jumper fit for an ice age, rather than a fur coat. 

Cameron Sutherland

Sunny, Magical, Cameron. Legend has it he came into this world riding atop two ramskulls, leaving a trail of ink, hashtags and cider...or maybe he's a part timer at AllSaints and a content writer studying journalism and public relations in Bristol. Either way, he's kind of a big deal.