Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mammoth Discovery

Baby mammoth yields secrets after 40,000 years in Siberian Tundra
from the Times UK

A woolly mammoth was discovered in 2007 in the Arctic tundra, and is making news this week. What's truly fascinating about this is the age of the mammoth - only a month old when she died. She was amazingly well preserved, as well; the best-preserved woolly mammoth mummy yet found. Her eyes, her organs, even the food in her stomach were all preserved by the clay that trapped and suffocated her.

Scientists hope that this exceptional preservation will let them explore details that might shed new light on mammoth physiology and the changing environment of her times - about 40,000 years ago.

Lyuba is a woolly mammoth - different than the Colombian mammoths that inhabited the Diamond Valley area in the Pleistocene. They lived in colder, more northern, tundra-like environments, and grew the shaggy wool coat that gives them their name. Colombian mammoths inhabited more temperate lower-latitude grasslands, and while they had some hair, it was not the full, thick coat you see in Woolly mammoths.

One similarity between Lyuba and mammoths in this region, though, is how she was first found. She was discovered by a Siberian reindeer farmer, having eroded partway out of a riverbank. Similar finds pop up in Southern California every year - mammoth tusks or horse bones that may have lain under the surface for millenia, peeking out after a rainstorm or catching the toe of some lucky hiker passing by. Fortunately for paleontologists, the Siberian farmer got in contact with scientists before she was tampered with any more, and they were able to excavate Lyuba carefully to ensure this unique discovery will tell us all it can about the world of the woolly mammoth.


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