荔枝视频成人app T science historian's research on woolly mammoths comes alive in children's play

The Last Mammoth sees a young girl and her mammoth friend explore questions about climate change, extinction and environmental preservation

The Last Mammoth, a children鈥檚 play, was developed by 荔枝视频成人app T science historian Rebecca Woods and her PhD student Alexander Offord (supplied image)

One summer day in 2022, a gold miner working in the Yukon came upon something even more valuable than what he was looking for: , with skin and hair intact.

The baby female calf was thought to have been resting in the permafrost for more than 30,000 years.

It was among the biggest paleontological finds in Canadian history 鈥 and the latest milestone in a great tradition. Since the 18th century, frozen woolly mammoth specimens (usually skeletons or bones) have been periodically found in diverse locations around the world.

A science historian, Rebecca Woods shows how animals such as frozen woolly mammoths can teach us about the march of history (supplied image)

Such finds captured the imagination of Rebecca Woods, an associate professor in the 荔枝视频成人app鈥檚 department of history in the Faculty of Arts & Science. Her current research focuses on the place of frozen woolly mammoths in the global history of science 鈥 work that is being transformed by Alexander Offord, her research assistant and a PhD candidate at the  (IHPST.)

Alongside his academic career, Offord and his partner Nicole Wilson are the artistic directors of Toronto theatre company . Their new children鈥檚 play is called The Last Mammoth, which sees a young girl and her mammoth puppet friend embark on a journey to explore questions about climate change, extinction and environmental preservation.

Alexander Offord is a PhD candidate at the Institute for the History & Philosophy of Science & Technology and co-artistic director of Toronto theatre company Good Old Neon (supplied image)

Woods, who is cross-appointed to IHPST, says she first became interested in mammoths through her research on sheep.

鈥淎s a historian of science I find myself drawn to stories about animals and the ways in which they can help us understand different historical processes,鈥 she says.

For example, in her 2017 book , she illustrated how farmers in Australia and New Zealand created sheep breeds to serve British meat markets. In the early days of refrigeration, diners were mistrustful about eating meat that had been slaughtered six months previously 鈥 so vendors decided to allay their fears by pointing to the example of a famous woolly mammoth discovered earlier in the century in Siberia, which had been unearthed from ice and fed to dogs without harm.

鈥淭hat story got me thinking about how the scientific and cultural meanings of mammoths have changed since that time,鈥 says Woods. 鈥淔or contemporary audiences, in a moment of great anxiety about global warming, frozen mammoths preserved by permafrost serve as a loud warning bell about a warming earth. It鈥檚 totally different than how they were first understood in the early 19th century.鈥

Indeed, recent reports suggest that as the planet warms and permafrost melts, .

Along with an impressive baby mammoth, The Last Mammoth鈥檚 animal characters include two mischievous raccoons (supplied image)

The idea for a children鈥檚 play was born out of a desire to showcase Woods鈥檚 research in schools 鈥 and Offord, not surprisingly, played a key role.

鈥淲e鈥檇 never made theatre for young audiences before,鈥 Offord says, admitting that the subject matter did not immediately lend itself to a production for kids.

鈥淎 lot of children鈥檚 shows are very optimistic and shiny. And we said to ourselves, 鈥楬ow do we speak to some of the darkness that children will go through on this topic in a way that is respectful to them?鈥欌

First workshopped in September, The Last Mammoth鈥檚 script continues to evolve (supplied image)

Offord says he feels an urgency to the project given the climate crisis.

鈥淢ass species extinction is happening,鈥 he says. 鈥淎nd because it鈥檚 new, adults don鈥檛 really have the language to talk about it, let alone in a way that kids will understand.鈥

He adds that he felt it was necessary to create a piece that made these concepts accessible to children in a fun and honest way.

With funding from a and sponsorship by the , The Last Mammoth was first workshopped in early September for an audience of elementary school students and caregivers. The feedback is being used by Offord鈥檚 company as it continues to develop the script.

Though in its early stages, the play offers ample proof that it鈥檚 not only possible, but necessary to translate academic research on serious issues that will affect future generations.

鈥淭o me it feels like an incredible honour,鈥 says Woods. 鈥淲hat I appreciate so much about it is that a cross-generational audience from all walks of life can learn about my research 鈥 embodied in this incredibly evocative puppet, these gifted actors, and Alexander and Nicole, who鈥檝e figured out how to make it all come alive.

鈥淚t鈥檚 a play that really gets at the emotional core of what鈥檚 at stake in the work that I do.鈥

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