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Ice Age Lesson for Kids: History & Facts

Instructor: Sarah Caughron

Sarah has a master's degree in Applied Anthropology/Archaeology and has worked in formal and informal education since 2006.

Imagine living at a time when giant mammals roamed the earth. Sloths were as tall as houses, and armadillos were as big as a small car! Read on to learn more about what life was like during the Ice Age.

What is the Ice Age?

Earth has experienced many periods of warming and cooling episodes throughout history. The Ice Age is a period on Earth's geological history that started around 70,000 years ago and is well-documented through animal and plant fossils and artifacts left by humans. The peak of the Ice Age is thought to be around 19,000 years ago, and the Ice Age ended around 10,000 years ago. As the name suggests, this was a time when the climate was much, much colder than it is today. In fact, much of the Earth's surface was covered in sheets of ice.

Wooly mammoths were giant mammals that migrated across cold regions of the world.
Mammoths

It is estimated that about 1/3 of the Earth was covered in ice, and some of the ice sheets were up to a mile thick. New York state was covered in a sheet of ice approximately 1,000 feet thick. That's almost as high as New York City's famed Empire State Building. Because much of Earth's water was locked up in ice sheets, scientists estimate that sea level was over 300 feet lower than it is today.

What Caused the Ice Age?

There is geological evidence for many warming and cooling periods throughout Earth's over 4-billion-year history. The Ice Age was not caused by one singular event but many factors contributed to the Earth warming or cooling. These included the Earth's position to the sun, the Earth's tilt, and/or small changes in the Earth's atmosphere or ocean currents. Small changes over a long period of time can create dramatic changes to the climate.

A gylptodon was a large armadillo-like mammal as large as a small car.
Glyptodon

Life in the Ice Age

Imagine living during the Ice Age. Your home would look very different than it does today, and evidence suggests that people lived in caves during the Ice Age. Hunters would set out on expeditions to find food. Instead of modern weapons we think of hunters using today, people of the Ice Age had only stone tools that included knives and spears made out of rocks shaped into sharp points. It was no easy task to kill a giant mammoth, cave bear, or saber tooth cat with a spear!

Megafauna

The Ice Age is known for having been a time when giant animals known as megafauna roamed the Earth. Today's megafauna includes large animals like elephants, hippopotamus, lions, and tigers. Megafauna of the Ice Age were quite spectacular and included armadillos the size of small cars called glyptodons, giant sloths as tall as a house, and giant beavers standing over 6 feet tall.

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