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During the reign of Cheops, Pharaoh of Egypt (27th century B.C.), the Wrangel Island (between the East-Siberian and Chukchi seas) was inhabited by a population of mammoths! They died out only 3,700 years ago. And the strange fact is that we know much about the life of the ancient Egyptians and mammoths because of the similar circumstances which accompanied their death*. What we have in mind is mummification.
Naturally enough, no one embalmed these animals after their death. But if they were not killed by hunters, but perished in swamps or died in landslides, they became "victims" of permafrost, which preserves dead bodies no worse than ancient Egyptian balsams. The Nauka Urala newspaper (Science of Ural) has published an article describing one such unusual find.
Found in the permafrost soils in the north and northeast of our country have been several well-preserved bodies of mammoths. They can be preserved in permafrost for any length of time and perish almost instantly when they are "defrosted". The remains of a mammoth found on the Gydansk Peninsula (Yamalo-Nenets National Area), though not well preserved, were found by specialists of the Institute of Ecology of Plants and Animals of the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, who regard their find as very important.
The carcass was found by local residents, the Nentsy, back in the year 2000. They dug out a tusk protruding from the ground and started searching for the second one digging out part of the body which began to decompose. The second tusk was never found-it must have been found and taken away before. But even this time the find could have escaped the attention of specialists (in Salekhard) - staff members of the Yamalo-Nenets Area Museum-Exhibition Complex learned about it only in 2003. And it was only in August 2004 that scientists from Yekaterinburg and Salekhard were able to organize a brief expedition to the peninsula. Being informed of the circumstances of the find the scientists expected to find nothing but a skeleton laid bare by microbes and wild beasts.
But the carcass was preserved much better than expected. The soil dug out by the natives melted away, turned into mud and filled in the cavities, so that during that first winter the mammoth was again in frozen ground. It was impossible to dig it out at once and it was only in 2005 that the Salekhard Museum was able to organize an expedition which was headed by P. Kosintsev, Director of the Zoological Museum. Thus, only five years after its discovery, the find was in the hands of experts.
* See: Yu. Suprunenko, "Where Are All the Mammoths Gone?", Science in Russia, No. 2, 1999. - Ed.
The problem was that in permafrost areas frozen ground can be excavated only by a pinch bar or a scraper. Therefore, after removing the 70 cm top layer of soil, members of the expedition had to wait for a couple of weeks before digging out their find as a whole.
The body of the male of 30 - 40 years of age was resting on its right side. The skeleton was practically left intact (missing were only the tusks and the skull had been broken in order to take them out). Preserved were soft tissues of the front right leg, most of the fur on the right side and intestines with what they contained. That last organ is the most "welcome" find for experts because it provides new information about the diet of the beasts and about the vegetation of that period. All that will only broaden our knowledge about ecology of the period and help us understand why mammoths became extinct.
Connected with the global warming, which took place 10 - 12,000 years ago, is the disappearance of a whole "complex" of animals - "the mammoth fauna". That included some varieties of woolly rhinoceros, several types of fossil horses, cave bears and other extinct mammals, and also a number of species which are still alive although almost all of them (bisons, European bisons, musk-ox, saiga, wild caribou*) are on the brink of extinction. By clarifying the causes of extinction of mammoths in the past, we obtain an instrument for modeling the processes which threaten those preserved to this day.
After the expedition the gathered samples were sent to Yekaterinburg where they are being studied by experts. But a greater part of the mammoth remains were left in Salekhard for conservation. Later on the find will be prepared for an exhibition.
The NAUKA URALA newspaper (SCIENCE OF URAL), No. 24, 2005
Prepared by Andrey BIRYUKOV
* See: Ye. Syroyechkovsky, "The Problem of the Reindeer", Science in the USSR, No. 2, 1990. - Ed.
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