Last year's visit of the mummified baby woolly mammoth Lyuba became a talk-of-the-town event. The Hong Kong Space Museum's latest Omnimax show, "Titans of the Ice Age", launched this month invites audiences to visit Lyuba's world. The film evokes the frigid Ice Age of 20,000 years ago and traces the footprints of ancient giants such as mammoths and sabre-toothed cats. Set in beautiful scenery amid majestic glaciers and vast expanses of grasslands, the film takes the viewer into the caves of ancient man and reveals our methods of survival in the long, cold winter.
Twenty thousand years ago the Earth was wrapped in the freezing Ice Age, a period of sustained low temperatures in our planet's history. At that time, large areas of the northern and southern hemispheres were blanketed by glaciers up to three to four kilometres thick, while animals and humans lived mainly in the warmer equatorial regions. Over the past few decades, as scientists continue to unearth fossils of gigantic Ice Age animals and find cave drawings left by our ancestors, we have gained a better understanding of the ecological environments, climatic changes and human life during that era.
The woolly mammoth, an animal almost as big as today's African elephant, has emerged as the icon of the Ice Age. It was around three metres tall, weighed about seven tonnes and had long and curved tusks. Its thick hair, woolly coat and subcutaneous fat layer helped it cope with the cold. It is likely herds of mammoths were constantly on the move seeking their favourite vegetation - mammoths could eat up to 180 kilograms per day. They spread through Europe and Siberia and into northern parts of North America, roaming the grasslands. Lyuba, the baby woolly mammoth, was found in Siberia in 2007. Buried and frozen for about 42,000 years, she is the most intact mammoth ever found, helping us learn more about the ecology and habits of mammoths.
The plains of Ice Age Europe, Asia and North America seen in the film are somewhat like the African Serengeti, with a mixture of grass eaters and meat eaters. Dire wolves were social carnivores that lived and hunted in packs. Weighing up to 70 kilograms they were more powerfully built than today's grey wolves and were aggressive hunters. However, with a pair of fangs as sharp as razors and nearly twice the weight of a modern African lion, the sabre-toothed cat was the Ice Age's top predator.
The Shasta ground sloth was as big as a black bear and had relatives that were six-metres long and weighed nearly three tonnes. It was a furry plant eater that roamed the American west and northern Mexico. Its massive foreclaws may have helped to fend off attacks by sabre-toothed cats.
Though not physically equipped for a harsh and bitter climate, the intelligence, curiosity and language that facilitate communication allowed our ancestors to cope with many challenges. Their greatest asset for surviving the cold was the remarkable human mind - and the ability to tame the world around them, to harness the power of fire, flint and bone. They hunted mammoths as food and also crafted bone tools and needles to sew clothing from hides. They were creative and intelligent beings and were the first to leave symbolic records of their lives. They also learned to paint, make music and sing.
About 12,000 years ago the ice began to melt and the modern climate era began. By the end of the last Ice Age, 70 per cent of the world's largest land animals had vanished. Humans, however, have flourished - our population has grown from one million during the Ice Age to many billions today. Now our industries create so much greenhouse gas that we have become participants in the climate equation.
Looking back in time, the Ice Age is a climate story more relevant now than ever. Our minds helped us survive the ice and our wisdom might yet guide us toward a sustainable future.
The 40-minute Omnimax Show, "Titans of the Ice Age", will be screened until February 28, 2014 and is scheduled at 1.30pm, 5pm and 8.30pm daily at the museum's Stanley Ho Space Theatre. The museum is closed on Tuesdays (except public holidays).
Tickets are available at the Hong Kong Space Museum's Box Office and at all URBTIX outlets of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department for $24 (front stalls) and $32 (stalls). Full-time students, senior citizens aged 60 or above and people with disabilities are eligible for a half-price concession. For further information about the film, please visit the website at www.omnimax.hk.space.museum .
The Hong Kong Space Museum is located at 10 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. For enquiries, call 2721 0226.
Ends/Monday, September 2, 2013
Issued at HKT 17:56
The woolly mammoth was three metres tall and weighed about seven tonnes. It had long, curved tusks and its thick hair, woolly coat and subcutaneous fat layer helped it cope with the cold.
With fangs as sharp as razors and nearly twice the weight of a modern African lion, sabre-toothed cats were the Ice Age's top predator.