A 50-pound fossilized bone that initially belonged to a Columbian mammoth was discovered by a pack of amateur paleontologists last week while they were scuba diving in the Peace River in Arcadia, Southwest Florida.
The Orlando Sentinel first reported on the discovery of the bone by Derek Demeter and Henry Sadler. It weighs around 50 pounds, is 4 ft (1.21 m) in length, is currently believed to date back to the ice age, and belongs to one of the last mammoth species to roam North America.
“When I saw it, I couldn’t believe it. I was in denial. It was really neat to see that be discovered,” Demeter, the planetarium director at Seminole State College, told The Orlando Sentinel. “[Henry] came up, and he’s like, ‘Derek, I found something amazing,’ and he’s just freaking out.”
Although not yet properly examined, the bone — a humerus — seems to correspond to those of Columbian mammoths. This species’ habitat ranged from current-day Costa Rica to the northern U.S., where they roamed between 2.6 million and 10,000 years ago.
It was one of the last species of mammoth to live on Earth.
But let’s get back to our day. The lucky duo found several other bones on the same day. These include parts from an extinct shark lineage and the tooth of a saber-toothed tiger. Not ones to let their luck go to their heads, Henry and Derek donated these to the Florida Museum of Natural History, where they can be examined and displayed for the public to enjoy. The mammoth bone, however, they kept; it will be displayed in a local classroom, to accompany Henry — a science teacher at St. Petersburg’s Admiral Farragut Academy — while he teaches his classes.
“It’s currently sitting in the classroom where the kids are able to see it, touch it, feel it and really get a history of the natural world,” Sadler said.
This story goes to show that if you’re willing to pay attention to the environment around you, you might just be rewarded with some astonishing findings. Now, finding fossils thousands of years old just laying around on the floor probably isn’t very likely, but, objectively speaking, the odds are never quite zero. So don’t lose heart!
New research at the Dartmouth College reports that the earliest humans to inhabit today’s New England likely shared it with woolly mammoths.
The finding is based on the radiocarbon dating of a rib fragment recovered in 1848 Mount Holly, Vermont. This process indicated that the animal is around 12,800 years old, meaning that it could have been around to witness the first humans arriving in the Northeast.
“It has long been thought that megafauna and humans in New England did not overlap in time and space and that it was probably ultimately environmental change that led to the extinction of these animals in the region but our research provides some of the first evidence that they may have actually co-existed,” explains co-author Nathaniel R. Kitchel, the Robert A. 1925 and Catherine L. McKennan Postdoctoral Fellow in anthropology at Dartmouth.
The Mount Holly mammoth, as it came to be known, is Vermont’s state terrestrial fossil. It was unearthed in the Green Mountains during railroad construction works and includes one molar, two tusks, and a larger number of bones (how many there were is still unknown).
Over time, these fossils made their way to several different collections, and many have been lost. However, a rib fragment is housed at the Hood Museum of Art, while the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University and the Mount Holly Historical Museum also hold some bone material from this mammoth.
Kitchel stumbled across the rib fragment last December at the Hood Museum’s offsite storage facility. The bone was roughly 30 cm in length, stained brown with age. Together with DeSilva, he obtained a radiocarbon date of the rib fragment. This process involved taking a 3D scan of the bone before taking a small amount (around 1 grams) from its broken end. The sample was then sent to the Center for Applied Isotope Studies at the University of Georgia for radiocarbon dating.
Nitrogen isotopes in this sample (which are often used to gauge an animal’s diet) revealed lower-than-expected levels. In fact, the authors explain that these are the lowest recorded values for any mammoth in the Northeast area, and very low even by global averages. Their theory is that the mammoths in this area had to consume alder or lichens (nitrogen fixing species) to survive during the last glacial period. Carbon isotopes in the sample, meanwhile, pointed to it being around 12,800 years old — young enough to overlap with humans first entering the area around the Younger Dryas.
The findings raise the exciting possibility that these two species met. We know that people in the Midwest at the time used to hunt mammoths and bury them in lakes or bogs to preserve the meat, but we don’t really know whether people in the New England area hunted these beasts as well.
Part of the problem is a lack of evidence. During the last Glacial Maximum (18,000 to 19,000 years ago), glaciers started retreating from their maximum extent, and New England thawed gradually. As these glaciers retreated, they likely ripped up soil preserving any prior fossils, meaning we have very few intact specimens from this time.
“The Mount Holly mammoth was one of the last known occurring mammoths in the Northeast,” says DeSilva. “While our findings show that there was a temporal overlap between mammoths and humans, this doesn’t necessarily mean that people saw these animals or had anything to do with their death but it raises the possibility now that maybe they did.”
The team has just started to examine the remains using modern techniques, but hopefully, there are a lot of other lessons they can teach us.
The paper “First AMS radiocarbon date and stable C:N isotope analysis for the Mount Holly Mammoth, Vermont, USA” has been published in the journal Boreas.
Russian paleontologists were stunned by the discovery of an almost complete mammoth skeleton on Kotelny Island, located in the Arctic close to the Siberian coast, which had thousands of cut marks on it. These marks, as well as stone objects embedded within some of the fossils, indicate that the ancient beast might have been slain and butchered by human hunters.
The extraordinary mammoth skeleton came to the attention of Russian researchers completely by accident. In 2019, Innokenty Pavlov, a field worker and taxidermist, was on an expedition in the north of Kotelny Island — part of the New Siberian Islands in the eastern Arctic and home to a major Russian military base — to dig up the carcass of another known mammoth in the area. However, the melting snow flooded the site of the carcass, making excavations impossible. But as luck had it, they were informed by local fishermen that there was another mammoth site, just 10 kilometers away.
Indeed, the site proved to be genuine, and it is here that Pavlov, along with researchers led by Albert Protopopov, head of the Department for Study of Mammoth Fauna, Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Yakutia, found the intriguing mammoth bones.
Immediately, the researchers noticed marks on the bones and began to wonder whether these were evidence of human hunting.
All of the bones from the almost complete skeleton bore marks on them, although that doesn’t necessarily mean they were made by human cutting tools. Scavengers biting the carcass, as well as natural processes such as the shifting of sediments and geological pressure may also explain the cut marks.
Speaking to Gizmodo, Olga Potapova, a paleontologist with The Mammoth Site in South Dakota and an associate researcher with the Academy of Sciences of Yakutia and the Russian Academy of Sciences, makes a case that these marks were anthropogenic. She says that the fossils have a large number of long and very thin cuts clustered in a parallel fashion. Cuts made by natural processes look more like random scratches.
Researchers also found embedded stone objects in the tusk, as well as a bone object lodged into the scapula (shoulder bone). These may have been the remnants of a weapon made from bone, Potapova says.
The skull of the mammoth was broken in a similar fashion to the skulls of 32 mammoths from a site in the Russian Plain known as the “Yudinovo” site. Previously, researchers concluded that the mammoth skulls were fractured by human hunters who consumed the animals’ brains for food.
But in the absence of adjacent human artifacts or some other kind of direct evidence of human intervention, the contention that the Kotelny mammoth was butchered by human hands is still speculative.
To learn more, the researchers hope to return to the island soon, where they hope to uncover evidence of Paleolithic hunters at the site.
A bizarre 41-foot-wide (12.5-meter) circular structure made entirely of wooly mammoth bones was recently unearthed in Russia. Scientists believe that the structure is 25,000 years old. Whether it served as a dwelling, a ritualistic hotspot, or some other purpose is yet unclear.
As the name plainly suggests, hunter-gatherer societies obtained food by hunting, fishing, scavenging, and gathering wild plants and other edibles. It’s believed that before the advent of agriculture, our ancestors lived a nomadic lifestyle, moving in groups of a few dozens of people, consisting of several family units.
But this doesn’t mean that they mindlessly wandered the world. When food was plentiful in an area, it was common for hunter-gathers to stay put in the same place, employing techniques to store food and defending their territory against rival groups.
As out of the ordinary as it may sound, circular structures made from mammoth bones were quite common during the ice age in Eastern Europe.
Recently, Russian paleontologists have discovered the largest one yet: a huge structure made of hundreds of wooly mammoth bones, belonging to as many as 60 different mammoths.
The structure was found at an archaeological site, known as Kostenki 11, which is located by the Don River, close to the Russian city of Voronezh.
Radiocarbon dating suggests that the site is around 25,000 years old, making it one of the oldest mammoth bone structures in history.
Such structures are quite common around Russian and Eastern Europe. In fact, scientists have been discovering mammoth bone structures — albeit of much smaller dimensions — at Kostenski 11 since the 1950s. They’re all circular and flanked by a series of large pits, which may have been used to store food or dump waste.
About 70 such structures are known to exist in Ukraine and the west Russian Plain.
This most recent structure — and the largest found thus far — was first discovered in 2013. For three years the researchers had been excavating the site, employing flotation — a technique that involves water and sieves in order to separate ancient remains and artifacts from the soil.
A total of 51 lower jaws and 64 individual mammoth skulls were used to construct the walls, according to the investigation carried out by the team of researchers led by Dr. Alexander Pryor from the University of Exeter, UK.
In addition to the mammoth bones, the researchers were able to find evidence of charcoal and burnt bones, stone tool fragments, and soft plant tissue that hint at the diet consumed during those times.
Why would Pleistocene hunter-gatherers bother to erect such massive and, quite frankly, creepy structures?
“Kostenki 11 represents a rare example of Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers living on in this harsh environment. What might have brought ancient hunter gatherers to this site? One possibility is that the mammoths and humans could have come to the area on masse because it had a natural spring that would have provided unfrozen liquid water throughout the winter – rare in this period of extreme cold,” Pryor said in a statement.
The structure might have served as a dwelling for a small tribe or as a food stockpiling warehouse. The charcoal, for instance, suggests that fires were started inside the circular structure, providing solace against the harsh ice age nights. Climate modeling indicates that around the time the structure was erected, the last ice may have been at its worst, with temperatures around -20 degrees Celsius or lower.
Many of the bones were likely scavenged and transported to the site. Other bones likely came from hunting parties, with chunks of meat and tissue still attached to bones. Whatever their origin, a great deal of labor and planning was involved in order to transport such heavy loads.
The bones themselves don’t show signs of butchery. However, in the case of game of this size, the hunters probably removed the bulk of the meat, leaving small chunks to rot on the bone. Pryor says that humans butchering elephants in modern times using metal knives also didn’t leave any marks on the bones.
“These finds shed new light on the purpose of these mysterious sites. Archaeology is showing us more about how our ancestors survived in this desperately cold and hostile environment at the climax of the last ice age. Most other places at similar latitudes in Europe had been abandoned by this time, but these groups had managed to adapt to find food, shelter and water,” Pryor said.
However, Pryor writes that the amount of evidence that might point to intense activity at Kostenki 11 is rather low for what one might expect to find from a long-term base camp. He also has difficulty imagining how humans with limited technology could have been able to build the roof for such a large area, casting doubt on the site’s main use as a dwelling.
The structure perhaps also possessed a ritualistic significance. The Russian researchers speculate that it may have served as a shrine or monument honoring woolly mammoths. There is no evidence to back this assertion, which remains speculation at this point.
Whatever may be the case, this impressive archeological treasure trove shows that ice age humans were a lot more crafty than one might expect — after all, they had to in order to survive their extreme environment.
The findings appeared today in the journal Antiquity.
Archeologists from Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) reported finding the largest-ever body of mammoth remains. The trove includes 824 bones from at least 14 different animals and was unearthed in central Mexico.
Even more excitingly, the team believes that this stash is the oldest known example of a mammoth trap or ambush, set by our ancestors over 14,000 years ago.
Big stash of bigger animals
“This is the largest find of its kind ever made,” the institute said in a statement (original text in Spanish).
The fossils were found in the municipality of Tultepec near the site where a new airport is under construction. The team reports that some of the bones found showed signs that the animals were hunted. As the bones are estimated to be around 14,000 to 15,000 years old, the team says this is the earliest example of such a trap ever found.
Two human-dug pits created in those days of yore were also found at the site, which the team believes were used to trap the animals. Each pit is about 1.7 meters deep and 25 meters in diameter. Remains of two other species that have gone extinct in the Americas — a horse and a camel — were also found.
“Mammoths lived here for thousands of years. The herds grew, reproduced, died, were hunted,” archaeologist Luis Cordoba told local media. “They lived alongside other species, including horses and camels.”
The two pits were found on a site that’s earmarked for use as a garbage dump. It’s still unclear whether work on the dump will proceed.
The last woolly mammoths lived on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean, a new study reports.
An international team of researchers with members from the Universities of Helsinki, the University of Tübingen, and the Russian Academy of Sciences reports that the wooly mammoths likely went extinct due to a combination of habitat isolation and extreme weather events — as well as the spread of ancient humans.
Within a very short timeframe some 4,000 years old, the last population of these animals — which lived on Wrangel Island — went extinct, they add.
Last of the mammoths
“It’s easy to imagine that the population, perhaps already weakened by genetic deterioration and drinking water quality issues could have succumbed after something like an extreme weather event,” says professor Hervé Bocherens from the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen, a co-author of the study.
Mammoths enjoyed great success during the last ice age, from around 100,000 to 15,000 years ago. The species ranged from Spain to Alaska and fared quite comfortably during that time. Around 15,000 years ago, however, temperatures started picking up, and the mammoths’ natural range started to shrink. The Wrangel Island population, the team notes, was cut off by rising sea levels from their mainland counterparts and would live in isolation for the next 7,000 years.
The team examined carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, and strontium isotopes from a large set of mammoth bones and teeth dug up from Northern Siberia, Alaska, the Yukon, and Wrangel Island. These specimens ranged in age from 40,000 to 4,000 years ago. The researchers aimed to document possible changes in the mammoths’ diets over this time (which would be ‘recorded’ in their bones as different isotope ratios) as proxies for the environmental disturbances the species was exposed to.
The results showed that the carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios in the collagen of Wrangel Island mammoths did not shift as the climate warmed up some 10,000 years ago. The values remained unchanged until the mammoths disappeared, seemingly from the midst of stable, favorable living conditions.
Such results show a stark contrast with those obtained from wooly mammoth bones in the Ukrainian-Russian plains, who died out 15,000 years ago. It’s also different from the mammoths of St. Paul Island in Alaska, who disappeared 5,600 years ago. In both cases, the last representatives of these populations (that we’ve found) show markedly-different isotope compositions, suggesting changes in their environment shortly before they became locally extinct.
Earlier research had shown that mammoths on Wrangel Island suffered certain mutations that affected their fat metabolism. In the present study, the team reports finding a different ratio of carbon isotopes in their bones compared to Siberian mammoths, likely due to a difference in the fat and carbohydrates in the diets of the two groups.
The bones of Wrangel Island mammoths also showed higher levels of sulfur and strontium, likely due to increased weathering of bedrock in the area close to the mammoths’ extinction. These elements likely found their way into rivers and streams, affecting the quality of the animals’ drinking water.
All in all, the mammoths of the island disappeared suddenly, but perhaps, not dramatically. The team says short-term events like extreme weather is what likely did them in in the end. A simple icing event can cover the ground in a thick enough layer of ice to prevent the animals from finding food — which is enough to cause a dramatic drop in numbers. Another possible reason is the spread of humans in the area, with the earliest evidence of their presence on the island preceding the last mammoth fossils by just a few hundred years. The chance of finding evidence that humans hunted Wrangel Island mammoths is very small, the team explains, yet a human contribution to the extinction cannot be ruled out.
The study shows just how fragile a small population of large mammals is to environmental shifts and human activity. The team says their findings can help preserve species by aiming conservation efforts at the populations that are not isolated from one another.
The paper “Thriving or surviving? The isotopic record of the Wrangel Island woolly mammoth population” has been published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews.
They say you are what you eat. This saying is particularly apt for Neanderthals, who both ate woolly mammoths and shared some genetic traits with them. That’s not to say that there was any gene transfer through the gut. Instead, the researchers believe that the two species of mammals co-evolved the same adaptations to their environment.
Both Woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) and our extinct cousins, the Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis), hailed from African ancestors which migrated to Europe, where they adapted to living conditions in Ice Age Europe. Woolly mammoths first appeared in the Arctic peninsula around 600,000 years ago while Neanderthals appeared in Europe around 400,000 years ago. For tens of thousands of years, the two species regularly interacted. Intriguingly, both species went extinct around the same time around 40,000 years ago when humans began rapidly expanding across the continent.
Given their shared history, researchers at Tel Aviv University wondered if there were any genetic traits that the two species also shared. The research team led by Prof. Ran Barkai from the university’s Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures reviewed three cases studies of gene variants and alleles (an alternative form of a gene). The researchers were interested in finding genetic material related to cold-climate adaptation which can be found in the genomes of both species.
The studies revealed the mutual appearance of several genes, including LEPR (involved in thermogenesis and the regulation of fat storage in the body), MC1R and SLC7A11 (related to skin and hair pigmentation), as well as genes related to keratin protein production (the type of protein that makes up your hair, skin, and nails).
“Our observations present the likelihood of resemblance between numerous molecular variants that resulted in similar cold-adapted epigenetic traits of two species, both of which evolved in Eurasia from an African ancestor,” explained Meidad Kislev, the study’s co-author. “These remarkable findings offer supporting evidence for the contention regarding the nature of convergent evolution through molecular resemblance, in which similarities in genetic variants between adapted species are present.
“We believe these types of connections can be valuable for future evolutionary research. They’re especially interesting when they involve other large-brained mammals, with long life spans, complex social behavior and their interactions in shared habitats with early humans.”
Both species are extinct today, but they still have living relatives. Neanderthals have humans and mammoths have elephants — in fact, African and Asian elephants are more closely related to the woolly mammoth than to each other. However, this situation might not last long. Seventy-five percent of elephant populations are estimated to be declining, signaling a process of extinction fueled by black market demand for ivory.
“It is now possible to try to answer a question no one has asked before: Are there genetic similarities between evolutionary adaptation paths in Neanderthals and mammoths?” Prof. Barkai says. “The answer seems to be yes. This idea alone opens endless avenues for new research in evolution, archaeology and other disciplines.
“At a time when proboscideans are under threat of disappearance from the world due to the ugly human greed for ivory, highlighting our shared history and similarities with elephants and mammoths might be a point worth taking into consideration.”
“I was so moved when I saw the cells stir,” said 90-year-old study co-author Akira Iritani. “I’d been hoping for this for 20 years.”
Elephants and mice
Her name is Yuka, or at least that’s what we call her. She lived 28,000 years ago in what is today Siberia, before becoming frozen and isolated in the frigid permafrost. But this wasn’t the end of Yuka’s story. In August 2010, the incredibly well-preserved carcass of Yuka was found by researchers working in Siberia — a naturally-preserved mummy.
Now, a team of Japanese and Russian scientists has managed to “reawaken” some of Yuka’s cells by implanting cell nuclei from the mammoth into the egg cells of mice.
“This suggests that, despite the years that have passed, cell activity can still happen and parts of it can be recreated,” genetic engineer Kei Miyamoto from Kindai University told AFP.
In total, 88 bone marrow and muscle tissue samples were collected from 273.5 milligrams of mammoth bone marrow and muscle tissue. Researchers selected the least-damaged ones and injected them into living mouse oocytes (immature egg cells). They then used live-cell imaging techniques to observe how the structures reacted in their new environment and whether or not they still exhibited some signs of life.
Stunningly, they did. There was very faint activity, but it was some cellular activity
nonetheless, including a process called “spindle assembly,” which acts as a molecular safeguard in to ensure faithful chromosome transmission during mitosis. This indicates that “cell nuclei are, at least partially, sustained even in over a 28,000 year period,” researchers write in the paper, which is a remarkable find.
However, this doesn’t mean that scientists will be able to clone mammoths anytime soon. For starters, they weren’t able to stimulate cellular division — a vital process of all living creatures. Technological improvements or harvesting even less damaged samples might be ‘coerced’ to divide, but this is still only speculation at this point.
Another roadblock is that of DNA. The DNA of Yuka was surprisingly well preserved, but it was still not in ideal condition. Much better samples are required to even discuss the possibility of cloning. But Yuka’s DNA might still provide valuable insights into how mammoths were able to survive in such a unique and unforgiving environment.
The study marks a “significant step toward bringing mammoths back from the dead,” researcher Kei Miyamoto, one of the study’s authors told Japan’s Nikkei news outlet. “We want to move our study forward to the stage of cell division,” he said, adding “we still have a long way to go.”
Even without cloning, researchers hope that they will soon be able to use gene-editing technologies like CRISPR to enable modern elephants to survive in different types of environments.
An international research effort has found that Neanderthals were predominantly meat-eaters. The findings come from isotope analysis performed on Neanderthal remains recovered in France.
Our understanding of the Neanderthals has changed profoundly over time. At first, we simply assumed they were brutish, more ape than human. Among other characteristics, the prevailing theory was that their diets were primarily vegetarian — big apes are largely vegetarian, this line of thinking went, so Neanderthals must have been the same, right?
We’ve come a long way since then. Archeological evidence revealed that far from being simple-minded and lacking in general skills and finesse, these ancient humans were quite capable. They enjoyed beauty for beauty’s sake, they developed refined tools, established cultural and spiritual practices, and — as they managed to woo our ancestors into bed/the cave — some were probably quite dashing, as well.
The new study comes to flesh out our understanding of what Neanderthals liked to dine on. The team analyzed proteins from preserved collagen in Neanderthal bones found at two dig sites in France: the remains of a one-year-old baby found at Grotte du Renne, and a tooth from Les Cottés. The results show that Neanderthals were neither vegetarian nor simply content with scavenging meat from the kills of other beasts. In fact, they probably killed said beasts and ate them.
The team reports that the ratios of nitrogen-15 to nitrogen-14 isotopes in the collagen samples are similar to what we’d see today in major meat eaters — wolves or lions, for example. The findings, the team explains, add to the body of evidence pointing to the Neanderthals being predominantly meat eaters.
Nitrogen ratio analysis is a widely-used tool for diet reconstruction in ancient species. Nitrogen is a reliable indicator of an organism’s position in a food chain, as organisms obtain it solely through diet. Higher N-15 to N-14 ratios are indicative of carnivores — who concentrate nitrogen from lower trophic levels through diet. The ratio the team found in the Neanderthal collagen is slightly higher than that found in carnivore remains at Neanderthal sites, which the team takes as evidence the Neanderthal’s high position in their local food webs.
There’s also a growing body of indirect evidence supporting this view, the authors note. Previous discoveries of spears found alongside their remains, as well as evidence of butchered animal bodies, suggests that they were quite adept at hunting and processing game. Neanderthals also likely had a bulkier, thicker thorax than modern humans (that’s us). This constitution allowed for larger kidneys and livers compared to our own, a feature common among animals whose diets are heavy in animal protein.
They note that another possibility is that the high ratios were owed to a diet heavy in mammoth meat, putrefying meat (I hope it was the mammoth), or fish. The team used a novel technique called compound-specific isotope analyses (CSIA) to separately analyze each amino acid found in the collagen. The exact isotope composition of amino acids is heavily influenced by diet.
“Using this technique, we discovered that the Neandertal of Les Cottés had a purely terrestrial carnivore diet: she was not a late weaned child or a regular fish eater [fish was not readily accessible at either site], and her people seem to have mostly hunted reindeers and horses”, says Klervia Jaouen, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and first author of the study.
“We also confirmed that the Grotte du Renne Neandertal was a breastfeeding baby whose mother was a meat eater”.
Another finding was that Neanderthal diets were likely very stable over time, primarily meat, even after they had started to refine tool-processing techniques (possibly as a consequence of interacting with modern humans).
Taken as a whole, the study explains, these tidbits support the view that meat, particularly that obtained from herbivorous animals, was the main constituent of the Neanderthal diet. Small game was likely predominant on the menu, given that bones of fawns and other similarly-sized animals have been found at numerous Neanderthal dig sites and that smaller game is more readily killed with spears — but, as this study reveals, local food resources likely altered what Neanderthals ate in various areas.
The paper “Exceptionally high δ15N values in collagen single amino acids confirm Neandertals as high-trophic level carnivores” has been published in the journal PNAS.
The perfectly preserved remains of a baby horse belonging to a now-extinct species made headlines when they were unveiled to the world last week. Now, researchers in Russian and South Korea say that the 40,000-year-old foal, discovered in the Siberian permafrost, could be cloned back to life. If they are successful, the achievement would mark an important milestone towards the ultimate goal of resurrecting the wooly mammoth.
The 40,000-year-old horse was found buried beneath 30 meters of permafrost, which preserved it so well that its tail, mane, and hooves were still attached.
According to Semyon Grigoriev, the head of the Mammoth Museum in Yakutsk, the foal was only 20 days old when it perished. But thanks to the astonishing conservation power of the permafrost from the “Mouth of Hell” — the tadpole-shaped, one-km-long crater where the horse was found, initially created by the Soviets when they cleared the forest in the area — researchers were able to recover muscle tissues from the animal.
These undamaged samples could prove extremely valuable to biotech research — among them, a project that aims to resurrect the now-extinct Equus lenesis, also known as the Lena horse.
Hwang Woo Suk flew in from Seoul, South Korea to personally supervise the DNA extraction process from the foal. If they find viable, undamaged cells, these could be used to clone this unique animal.
“We are trying to make a primary culture using this baby horse,” said Suk, a former professor at Seoul National University. “If we get live cells from this ancient baby horse, it is a wonderful promise to people in terms of cloning.”
Suk is a pioneer of stem cell research, who has fallen out of grace in the scientific community after he was found guilty of falsifying some of his findings. He admitted to using eggs from paid donors in a study that claimed to recover stem cells from a cloned human embryo. Bringing an extinct species back from the dead may be a way for the scientist to redeem himself.
Credit: Michil Yakovlev/SVFU.
Previously, the South Korean researchers obtained living cells from a dead pet dog frozen by its owners. That was quite an important achievement because water crystalizes and destroys the cells.
Just like they would clone any other animal, the scientists plan to transplant genetic information from a specialized cell into an unfertilized egg cell whose genetic information has been destroyed or physically removed. The mare of a horse species similar to the extinct Lena will be used as a surrogate.
Once they are confident enough in their abilities, scientists plan to do the same for a wooly mammoth with an elephant as the surrogate.
Most of the world’s wooly mammoths were killed around 10,500 years ago, the prime causes are still up for debate. Human hunting, climate change or both have been identified by scientists as prime suspects. But on a small island off the coast of Alaska, an isolated population of wooly mammoths lingered on for thousands of years. They too died around 5,600 years, and with them, their entire species went extinct.
In 2014, a team of international researchers uncovered a 43,000-year-old female from the Siberian tundra which still had well-preserved muscles, kidneys, and even blood.
However, the differences between a mammoth and an elephant are much more significant than those between a modern-day horse and the extinct Lena.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
As such, cloning the Lena horse would be an immense breakthrough for scientists looking to bring back species back from the dead. There’s a lot of ground to cover though and, right now, people are probing in the dark. For instance, no one has been able to recover a living cell from ancient tissue before — which is the current plan. That would be unique in itself.
Previously, scientists led by George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard University, merged elephant and mammoth DNA — another important step for cloning the extinct beasts. While DNA can survive for a long time under the ‘freezer’, it’s far from being perfect — it’s impractical for cloning purposes since many bits and pieces have been damaged by the environment, which is why the researchers had to piece together the mammoth DNA with bits from the elephant.
Mammoth footprints dated to 43,000 years ago, which were uncovered by researchers in 2017 in an ancient dry lake bed in Lake County, Oregon. Credit: Greg Shine/Bureau of Land Management.
Sometimes footprints can reveal a richer story about the ancient past than bones ever will. In an Ohio basin famous for its fossils, paleontologists have discovered 117 fossilized tracks belonging to Columbian mammoths, which have been dated as 43,000 years old.
Among the fossilized impressions found at Fossil Lake, Oregon, a 20-footprint track particularly stands out. Researchers led by Gregory Retallack, a professor at the University of Oregon, say that one set of prints suggest it was etched by a limping adult mammoth. The prints were closer together than expected, and those on the right were more deeply impressed than those on the left.
But that’s not all. Next to this set of tracks thought to belong to a wounded female mammoth were those of juveniles, which suggest the youngster mammoths interacted with the limping female, returning to her repeatedly, perhaps out of concern for her condition. Such a behavior has been previously documented in wounded adults belonging to African elephant matriarchal herds. Modern-day elephants share roughly 99.4 percent of their genes with wooly mammoths, so the researchers’ reconstruction seems plausible.
Researchers believe the footprints belong to the Colombian mammoths. Credit: Bureau of Land Management.
The Columbian mammoth used to inhabit North America, as far north as the northern United States and as far south as Costa Rica, during the Pleistocene epoch. Woolly mammoths, which were adapted for brutish cold climate, roamed across Alaska and Canada. Most mammoths went extinct about 11,500 years ago — the reasons why are not entirely clear, but human hunting and climate change seem to have worked in tandem to wipe the species out. However, some isolated populations of woolly mammoth persisted until 4,000 years ago.
What’s amazing about these footprints is that they reveal so much about the extinct giants’ hierarchy and social structure. They suggest that these highly intelligent creatures lived in matriarchal social groups, much like their modern-day descendants, as reported in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology.
“Tracks sometimes tell more about ancient creatures than their bones, particularly when it comes to their behavior,” Retallack said. “It’s amazing to see this kind of interaction preserved in the fossil record.”
The CEO of a French waterproofing company just bought a woolly mammoth skeleton — 80% of which is original bone.
Image via Youtube.
If you’re looking for more unusual Christmas presents, know that it cost Pierre-Etienne Bindschelder, CEO of French-based waterproofing company Soprema, €548,250 (US $646,000) to buy himself a nice, full wooly mammoth skeleton at the Aguttes auction house in Lyon. Which, I think we can all agree, will definitely make for an interesting discussion topic around the holiday table.
Bindschelder says he was motivated to buy the giant skeleton — mounted in a forward walking position, its enormous curved tusks with tones of caramel and ivory facing slightly downward — at least in part, by his line of work: his company’s logo is a woolly mammoth.
“We are going to display it in the lobby of our firm,” he said. “I think we have enough room.”
The skeleton is the largest of its kind ever found, a male standing at more than 10 feet tall. It’s also of “exceptional quality”, being spectacularly well preserved and almost complete. It’s one of only a hundred mammoths of its species we’ve ever discovered, and it stands out through its imposing size and the quality of its tusks — each roughly 9 feet long, “weighing 80 kilos and 90 percent intact,” natural history expert Eric Mickeler told The Local France.
It was unearthed roughly one decade ago by a hunter in Siberia, who found the bones sticking out from the permafrost. The once-in-a-lifetime find was made possible, in large part, by climate change — which is making Siberia’s permafrost thaw and melt at a very rapid rate. The other part is that mammoth bones are actually pretty abundant in Siberia, sometimes insanely well preserved.
“The permafrost in Siberia particularly is melting at a very rapid rate because of climate change,” David Gelsthorpe, curator of Earth Science collections at Manchester Museum, told the BBC. “So not only are we getting these incredible skeletons coming out, but also pretty much as they died as well. We’re getting things like fur, the skin, the muscles, the organs – and even the last meal.”
That bit at the beginning where I called this a ‘more unusual’ present? It’s not even an exaggeration; mammoth bone auctions take place more often than you’d believe. The first full mammoth skeleton to be auctioned off sold for US $176,000 in France in 2006. Another was sold in October 2012 in Paris for €240,750 at an auction organized by Sotheby’s. Then there was one in 2014, and, just last month, a ‘family’ of four such fossils failed to sell in the UK.
Here’s the beautiful fossil getting prepped for its big sale last month:
Do you think scientists should retain control over fossils, in the name of furthering our knowledge, or should collectors be allowed to own such artifacts just because they can afford to pay up? Let us know in the comments.
Dwindling numbers of woolly mammoths brought forth another problem: a “mutational meltdown.” The last surviving members of populations were not much less prepared to deal with harsh conditions than their predecessors, a new study has revealed.
Wooly mammoths near the Somme River, AMNH mural. Image credits: Charles R. Knight, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons.
They were once some of the most common herbivores in North America and Siberia. Rising temperatures and an increasing number of predators (read: humans) wiped most of them out about 10,000 years ago. However, as recent studies have shown, small, isolated populations survived on some islands up until 3,700 years ago. when the species went fully extinct. In this study, researchers compared the genomes of these “surviving” mammoths and the ones of their predecessors from the mainland, dating back to 45,000 years ago.
Some mammoths had no olfactory sense. How did they smell? Terribly, likely.
The in-depth comparison showed that the island mammoths had it pretty rough. Because their population was so small, they accumulated multiple harmful mutations to their genome, which interfered with major gene functions. For instance, they had virtually lost their sense of smell, suffered from urinary problems, and had a translucent and satin coat.
“In this island mammoth there is an excess of what look like bad mutations right before the mammoths go extinct,” said Rebekah Rogers, co-author of the study from the University of North Carolina.
Published in the journal PLoS Genetics, the study compared only two woolly mammoths — one lived 45,000 years ago in mainland Siberia in a large population, and the other lived about 4,300 years ago on Russia’s Wrangel Island, among a population of around 300. So they only looked at two beasts, which might not paint the full picture, but definitely gives us a clear indication of what the last mammoths went through, which is pretty amazing if you think about it. Rebekah Rogers adds:
“When I first started this project, I was excited to be working with the new woolly mammoth sequences, published by Love Dalen’s lab. It was even more exciting when we found an excess of what looked like bad mutations in the mammoth from Wrangel Island. There is a long history of theoretical work about how genomes might change in small populations. Here we got a rare chance to look at snapshots of genomes ‘before’ and ‘after’ a population decline in a single species. The results we found were consistent with this theory that had been discussed for decades.”
It’s not like this is surprising in any way. We’ve known for a long time that small, isolated populations go through significant changes. The lack of adequate natural selection combined with inbreeding generally leads to an accumulation of mutations — but the study gives us the chance to see how this happens. Montgomery Wilson Slatkin, who was also involved with the study, is an American biologist, and professor at the University of California, who has dedicated his career to developing mathematical models of how genomes will look different when population conditions change. His work might shed some light on how dwindling populations are affected by this genetic stress — something more and more important as we seem to be causing a major extinction.
Satin fur and heartburn
Unlike most mammoths, island populations may have had silky, satin fur. Image credits: Flying Puffin.
This also fits in with modern genetic research. For instance, researchers have identified an interesting mutation in the island mammoths, one that in mice causes satin fur. If the effects were similar in mammoths (which is a highly plausible assumption), then the isolated population looked better than their mainland cousins… but this wasn’t really a boon for them. Smooth, silky fur is less effective at protecting against the cold and damp weather. Furthermore, satin hair is associated with other problems:
“A lot of satin mutants are known to have digestive problems, and so it may have had heartburn, it may have had trouble digesting its food,” Rogers said.
But these mutations might also hold a few positives within. Matthew Cobb, professor of zoology at the University of Manchester who was not involved in the study, believes that the island population might have quickly adapted to their new environment.
“Assuming that these mammoth smell genes are truly non-functional, this may represent an adaptation to the particular conditions on Wrangel island,” he said. “Olfactory genes evolve very rapidly, and can quickly become non-functional where they no longer serve any function because food sources or predators have changed.”
He too believes the findings can be applied to today’s situation.
“For the mammoths, the end point was extinction; these findings may enable us to develop better conservation strategies for animals that are currently endangered,” he said.
Journal Reference: Rogers RL, Slatkin M (2017) Excess of genomic defects in a woolly mammoth on Wrangel island. PLoS Genet 13(3): e1006601. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1006601
A biologist from the National Park Service discovered a rare and unusual mammoth skull buried in a 13,000-year-old rock layer on the Santa Rosa Island, the second largest landmass in the Channel Islands, California. The fossil of the extinct megafauna is leaving many paleontologists scratching their heads. Despite the fact that it’s possibly the best preserved mammoth skull ever found, the individual it belonged to can’t seem to be confined to a species yet — it’s too big for a pygmy mammoth and too small to have come from a Columbian mammoth. Some say it’s a new species while others believe the truth lies somewhere in between.
“I have seen a lot of mammoth skulls and this is one of the best preserved I have ever seen,” said paleontologist Justin Wilkins, a member of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) team that investigated the find.
“[the fossil] is extremely rare and of high scientific importance. It appears to have been on the Channel Islands at the nearly same time as humans,” Wilkins added.
The first mammoths showed up in North America around two million years ago but it was only during the last two ice ages that the Columbian species, which could grow to be up to 14 feet tall, made its way to the Channel Islands 100 miles west of Los Angeles. Once the ice receded, many populations became trapped on the island and evolved into pygmy mammoths, an endemic species to the Channel Islands which grew only to six feet tall.
Credit: Brent Sumner
The newly found mammoth skull found in pristine shape doesn’t seem to fit any of the two species, Columbian or pygmy, judging from its size. To make things even more confusing, one of its two tusks is nearly five feet long and coiled in a manner that resembles those of fully grown mammoths but the left tusk is shorter and sloped, more like a juvenile.
This has prompted some scientists to say the Santa Rose skull may belong to a transitional species. Whatever’s the case, a subsequent examination of the mammoth’s teeth should put the matter to rest. The analysis will also tell us how old the mammoth was when it died, so we can tell for sure whether it was an adult or juvenile.
More interesting than the mammoth’s lineage, however, might be its story. The giant mammal lived 13,000 years ago or roughly the same timeline of the “Arlington Man,” a 13,000-year-old human skeleton also found on Santa Rosa. Some 3,000 years later humans were already spread throughout the continent and the Channel Islands’ mammoth went extinct. The present finding might help unravel a link between the two.
The remains also seem to confirm a long-held hypothesis that there were two mammoth migrations to the Channel Islands.
“The discovery of this mammoth skull increases the probability that there were at least two migrations of Columbian mammoths to the island: during the most recent ice age 10 to 30,000 years ago, as well as the previous glacial period that occurred about 150,000 years ago,” said USGS geologist Dan Muhs.
A team at University of Chicago made the most comprehensive woolly mammoth genome sequencing ever. By comparing its genome with that of its distant cousins, the Asian and African elephants, the researchers were able to determine which are the mammoth’s specific genes. These were ran with libraries and repositories to identify what these do. We now know which of mammoth’s gene shaped its uncanny skull and small ears, how it got hair to cover all its body or how the mammoth adapted a special fat metabolism and cold coping mechanism. To test their findings, the researchers transplanted a mammoth gene into a human cell. The kidney cell produced new proteins which were tolerant to heat or cold, as suspected showing their other genetic determinations are also likely correct.
What the mammoth
This isn’t the first time a mammoth’s genome was sequenced, of course. However, these previous efforts were error-prone and yielded only limited results .This is natural after all, since we’re working with DNA from a creature which went extinct some 10,000 years ago. The last ice most likely killed off the mammoth which roamed the frigid tundra steppes of northern Asia, Europe and North America. On the bright side, the ice age helped keep mammoth specimens in the “freezer” helping preserve whole tissue and even mammoth blood. The cold, however, damages DNA and sequencing the genomic data can be a lot like retrieving data from a hard drive with “bad” sectors. You can fill in the gaps, but only so much.
Vincent Lynch, PhD, assistant professor of human genetics at the University of Chicago used new techniques to sequence the whole genomes of two woolly mammoths and three Asian elephants, which are the closest living relatives of the mammoth. The two genomes were then compared against each other. The genome of the African elephant, a more evolutionary distant relative of both species, was also added to the mix.
The researchers identified 1.4 million genetic variants unique to woolly mammoths, which caused changes in the proteins produced by 1,600 genes. Proteins are basically what signal physical growth, change and function. Thus, mammoth genes were identified that are involved in fat metabolism (including brown fat regulation), insulin signaling, skin and hair development (including genes associated with lighter hair color), temperature sensation and circadian clock biology. These are all highly important in helping the mammoth adapt to Arctic temperatures.
“This is by far the most comprehensive study to look at the genetic changes that make a woolly mammoth a woolly mammoth,” said study author Vincent Lynch, PhD, assistant professor of human genetics at the University of Chicago. “They are an excellent model to understand how morphological evolution works, because mammoths are so closely related to living elephants, which have none of the traits they had.”
To make sure they did their job right, the researchers used ancestral sequence reconstruction techniques to “resurrect” the mammoth version of one of these genes, TRPV3, then implanted it into a human kidney cell. The TRPV3 gene produced a protein that was less responsive to temperature than the modern elephant ancestral version. So it seems likely that TRPV3 was also important for mammoth cold tolerance. Findings appeared in Cell Reports.
Resurrecting a fallen beast
Naturally, the better the genome sequencing, the better the chances of a mammoth cloning working well. Some researchers think this is total nonsense and won’t even happen, but there are research groups around the world that are working on making the very first ancient creature resurrection. The scientific challenges are quite difficult to overcome, though. For instance, Harvard University researchers are now filling the gaps in poor mammoth genome sequences with elephant DNA. The better the genome, the better the odds that a live, functional mammoth might be born alive. But will it be a mammoth in the first place? It’s hard to tell.
“We can’t know with absolute certainty the effects of these genes unless someone resurrects a complete woolly mammoth, but we can try to infer by doing experiments in the laboratory,” Lynch said.
“Eventually we’ll be technically able to do it. But the question is: if you’re technically able to do something, should you do it?” he said. “I personally think no. Mammoths are extinct and the environment in which they lived has changed. There are many animals on the edge of extinction that we should be helping instead.”
Cloning the woolly mammoth is a life long dream for many geneticists and biologists, but the challenges are numerous. Now, we’ve come a step closer after researchers replaced snips of elephant DNA with those from the woolly mammoth. The changes they’ve made so far are stable, and even though there’s still much work ahead, little by little scientists are building the mammoth’s genome one piece at a time. Next stop: actually cloning the mammoth, effectively resurrecting the species back from the dead.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
The last mammoth likely lived 3,200 years ago. Some scholars believe that their extinction was driven by excessive hunting, but there’s a growing consensus that humans alone weren’t to blame. Instead, a combination of factors likely lead to their demise, most important of which was climate change. While the ice age killed the poorly adapted mammoths, thanks to it we at least now have a myriad of extremely well conserved specimens. For instance, a team of international researchers uncovered a 43,000 year old female from the Siberian tundra which still had well conserved muscles, kidneys and even blood! A team member was actually quoted as saying the decomposition was less severe than a six months old carcass.
While DNA can survive for a long while under the ‘freezer’, it’s far from being perfect. In other words, it’s impractical for cloning purposes, since many bits and pieces have been damaged by the environment. This is why so many are skeptical of so called mammoth cloning. “C’mon, it’ll never happen. Not in my lifetime,” said Webb Miller, a Penn State computer scientist and genomicist who helped decipher the genetic code of a woolly mammoth.
Yes, sure, but what if you piece it together? This is what George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard University, and colleagues have been doing for the last couple of years. Using a novel technique they’ve replaced sections of elephant DNA with the mammoth genes. Since the two species are very similar, the reasoning is to only piece together those pieces that are distinct. For instance, those genes that code body hair or the longer ears.
“We now have functioning elephant cells with mammoth DNA in them. We have not published it in a scientific journal because there is more work to do, but we plan to do so,” Church said.
Church’s efforts are only the last to come to attention. At least three other team are working independently to clone to mammoth. As to Church’s research, there are a lot of loose ends that, to me at least, look very challenging if not impossible to fix. First of all, are they certain they can find the function of all the mammoth genes they’ve uncovered so far? If they do clone a so-called mammoth, will it be a mammoth in the first place or just a hybrid? Nevertheless, it would be a fantastic scientific achievement. Yes, there are critics who argue this is not only useless, but unethical. Why clone an extinct species, when we can barely avert extinction today! A while ago, I reported a new analysis conducted by Nature which found that 41% of all amphibians on the planet now face extinction while 26% of mammal species and 13% of birds are similarly threatened. Even more species might become at risk, arguably, once an extinct species is resurfaced through cloning since extinction itself would become far less dramatic. “You can always bring it back.” But why renounce such a powerful tool? Yes, humans have been and are still highly irresponsible, but at least…we’re trying to fix it. Some of us at least.
In nothing short of an astonishing find, Russian scientists have discovered a wonderfully preserved female mammoth carcass – the first in the world – in the icy tundra of Siberia. The muscle tissue was found to be extremely well preserved, but what simply caught the researchers by surprise, followed by the whole scientific community in the world, was the discovery of blood trapped in the ice. When the ice was broken, the blood flowed despite freezing -10 degrees Centigrade temperatures! It all sounds like the synopsis of a Hollywood adventure blockbuster, but it’s all as real as you and me.
The find was made in the Lyakhovsky Islands, the southernmost group of the New Siberian Islands in the Arctic seas of northeastern Russia. So far, only three adult mammoth carcasses, including the present discovery, have been discovered. The female mammoth carcass weighs about one ton, along with the bones and some ice, but the researchers assume that while she was alive, the female must have weighed about three tons. They believe she was between 50 and 60 years old when she died and must have lived from 10,000 to 15,000 years ago.
This flask contains flowing mammoth blood. ‘For now our suspicion is that mammoth blood contains a kind of natural anti-freeze’. Picture: Semyon Grigoriev
The degree of preservation is simply astonishing! The muscle tissue has been conserved so well by the icy cerement that it still had a natural red color of fresh meat. Such preservation can be explained by the fact that the lower part of the mammoth’s body was trapped in pure ice, while the upper part was discovered in the middle of the tundra. The trunk was found separately from the carcass. Nevermind the flowing blood…. that’s simply mind boggling! Now, why didn’t the blood freeze? Well mammoth blood, it seems, looks a lot like anti-freeze as mammoth haemoglobin let go of its oxygen much more readily at cold temperatures than living elephants today. The dark blood was found in ice cavities below the belly of the animal.
We were really surprised to find mammoth blood and muscle tissue,’ said Semyon Grigoriev, head of the Museum of Mammoths of the Institute of Applied Ecology of the North at the North Eastern Federal University.
‘It is the first time we managed to obtain mammoth blood. No-one has ever seen before how the mammoth’s blood flows’.
He explained: ‘The approximate age of this animal is about 10,000 years old. It has been preserved thanks to the special conditions, due to the fact that it did not defrost and then freeze again.
‘We suppose that the mammoth fell into water or got bogged down in a swamp, could not free herself and died. Due to this fact the lower part of the body, including the lower jaw, and tongue tissue, was preserved very well.
‘The upper torso and two legs, which were in the soil, were gnawed by prehistoric and modern predators and almost did not survive.’
The find comes amid intense efforts of resurrecting mammoths using DNA. Last year a deal was signed giving South Korean scientists exclusive rights on cloning the woolly mammoth from certain tissue samples found in the Siberian permafrost. Attempts so far have proven to be unsuccessful, since scientists have yet to isolate clean DNA. To get the DNA they need, scientists need a lot of living cells to work with and repair DNA. Grigoriev noted that the repair of DNA is a very complex process that can take years.
If eventually stable DNA is gathered, the plan is to implant eggs into the womb of a live elephant for a 22-month pregnancy. A mammoth should came out, but maybe something entirely new too.
Almost 10 years ago, on July 30, 2003, a team of Spanish and French scientists reversed time. They brought an animal back from extinction, if only just to see it go extinct again. The animal they revived was a kind of wild goat known as a bucardo, or Pyrenean ibex. For tens of thousands of years, the animal thrived in the Pyrenees, the mountain range that divides France from Spain, where it clambered along cliffs, eating whatever plants and roots it could, enduring harsh winter after harsh winter. Then the humans came – with their guns. Hunting season after hunting season, their numbers dwindled down, and in 1989, just 12 individuals remained. 10 years from that, a single female was left, and not long afterwards, the bucardos became officially extinct.
Over the next few years a team of reproductive physiologists led by José Folch injected nuclei from those cells into goat eggs emptied of their own DNA, then implanted the eggs in surrogate mothers. From the 57 implantations, only 7 animals became pregnant. Out of those 7 pregnancies, 6 ended in miscarriage; one of them however, was brought to term – but only for 10 minutes. A huge lobe in its lung prevented it from actually breathing; there was nothing anyone could do, and the bucardos became extinct – once more.
The idea of bringing back species through cloning has hovered on the border of reality and science fiction for a few decades now, but are we really at that time when we actually bring them back?
“We are at that moment,” sayd Fernández-Arias, now the head of the government of Aragon’s Hunting, Fishing and Wetlands department.
The term is definitely lacking, but for the lack of a better one, we’ll keep using it. At a TEDx conference in Washington DC sponsored by National Geographic, scientists met to discuss which animals should be brought back from extinction. They discussed the why, the how, and perhaps most important, the ethics behind this kind of project.
The thing is, the list of recently-gone extinct animals (because of human activity) is really large (7 animals recently gone extinct), so even if all the scientific methods are available, we have to choose wisely where we have to invest time and resources. Are the species practical choices – do they provide any advantage to the environment? Do they hold an important ecological function, or are they beloved by humans? It’s a pretty tricky area, especially considering how the environment has changed.
In fact, this is a very puzzling issue; even if we say, manage to bring back a species, its environment would be different; the ecological niche it once filled is almost certainly gone by now. Migration patterns have changed, food sources have changed, temperatures have changed, and in a way, even if it is a perfect physical clone, the species will not be the same.
The passenger pigeon is a perfect example of how destructive humans can be. In the mid 1850, some 3.5 – 5 BILLION passenger pigeons existed. They went extinct in under 50 years, due to habitat loss and meat consumption.
This giant, flightless Elephant bird was found only on the island of Madagascar and died out by the 17th century.
The Aurochs is often seen as a mythical animal – but it was very much real. It is the ancestor of domestic cattle and lived throughout Europe, Asia, and North Africa. They died off in 1627.
The Caribbean monk seal was hunted to extinction for use as oil, and they were out-competed for fish.
The much loved, much feared, and overall iconic Saber-toothed cat, Smilodon, is also on the list. It died out about 10,000 years ago due to climate changes at the end of the last Ice Age.
The Carolina Parakeet was the only parrot species native to the eastern United States. Out of all things, one of the main reasons why it went extinct is because of the demand for its colorful feathers to decorate ladies’ hats.
This extinct species of plains Zebra, the Quagga, once lived in South Africa. The last wild one was shot in 1870 and the last in captivity died in 1883.
The common misbelief about Dodo birds is that they are really dumb – but that’s hardly true. The thing is, they evolved without any natural enemy – so when humans arrived to their home island of Mauritius, they took advantage of this and ate them to extinction.
The Huia was a large species of New Zealand wattlebird. It went extinct in the 20th century because of hunting to make specimens for museums and private collectors.
Another victim from New Zealand: Moa were a giant flightless bird hunted to extinction by the Maori at approximately 1400.
The Mastodon is an extinct species related to elephants that lived in North and Central America.
Frozen carcasses of the Woolly Mammoth allow scientists access to well-preserved DNA from these prehistoric giant animals, related to elephants. Apparently, one isolated population of mammoths lived on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean until 4000 years ago.
The Great Auk went extinct in the mid-19th century.
The Imperial Woodpecker may actually still be alive, but not a single one has been seen for over 50 years, and its entire habitat (in Mexico) has been destroyed.
The Ivory-billed Woodpecker lived in “virgin forests” of the southeastern United states, but there are no longer any virgin forests in that area, and again, a live specimen hasn’t been seen for over 50 years.
The Heath Hen lived in coastal North America up until 1932. They made for delicious dinners, and were likely the foundation of the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving. Apparently, they were too delicious for their own good.
The Labrador Duck was always rare but disappeared between 1850 and 1870. Reports claim it didn’t taste good, but was hunted just for the sake of hunting.
This cute little guy is the Dusky Seaside Sparrow, which was found in Southern Florida. It was officially declared extinct in 1990 after humans started spraying the insecticide DDT on its habitat to kill off mosquitoes.
The Moho are a genus of extinct birds from Hawaii. Most of them died out because of habitat loss and hunting.
The Pyrenean ibex lived in Southern France and the Northern Pyrenees.
This beautiful bird is the Cuban Macaw. It lived in Cuba and was the last species of Caribbean macaw to go extinct, due to deforestation from human settlement.
The Thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger, is the only marsupial to make the list. It lived in Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea until the 1960s. Intensive hunting encouraged by bounties is generally blamed for its extinction.
No, this is not the prologue for a Steven Spielberg movie. Yevgeny Salinde, a 11 year old boy, found what’s been later identified as a 30,000 year-old perfectly preserved mammoth carcass while strolling near his home in Russia’s far north, some 3,000 kilometers away from Moscow. The boy told his parents, who work at the Sopkarga polar weather station, who in term contacted the authorities. Experts believe this is the 2nd most well preserved mammoth specimen ever discovered. A similar find like this hasn’t been encountered in a century.
“He sensed an unpleasant odour and saw something sticking out of the ground — it was the mammoth’s heels,” said Alexei Tikhonov, director of the Saint Petersburg-based Zoological Museum, who rushed to the tundra after the boy’s family had notified scientists of the historic find.
When paleontologists reached the site, they did not only find a skeleton, like initially expected, but a complete carcass – skin, meat, fat hump and organs, all extremely well preserved. Scientists estimate the mammoth was 15 to 16 years old when it succumbed in the summer because it lacked an undercoat and had a large reserve of fat. The specimen was excavated after more than a week of hard work. To retrieve it from the permafrost, they had to use special steam generators to free parts of the carcass from snow and frozen soil.
The mammoth, which has been named Zhenya (short for Evgeny) after the boy, will become the main exhibit of the Taimyr Regional Museum, which has already agreed to transfer the unique find to the Russian Academy of Sciences for further study.
As it turns out, no one single factor was powerful enough to wipe out the woolly mammoth – instead, a sum of factors acted towards their demise, much like many animals are threatened today.
Woolly mammoths roamed the globe for 250.000 years, wandering from North America to Europe to Asia, until they were driven extinct by a multitude of culprits: climate change, human hunters and declining habitats. Does this ring a bell? Mammuthus primigenius was covered with hairs about 50 cm long and possessed long, curved tusks, that measured up to 4.9 meters in length. They vanished from Siberia no longer than 10.000 years ago, although dwarf mammoths survived on Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean until 3,700 years ago.
The mammoths, which were warm-blooded, though able to thrive in cold climates, were not as diversified as other species. Many researchers have claimed that it was the global warming that brought them down, while others believed it was the human hunters that killed them off, along with other ice giants. Some even went as far as to claim a comet was the culprit.
But now, a thorough analysis of fossils, artifacts, paleoclimatic studies and environmental sites spanning millennia suggests that no one factor was powerful enough.
“These findings pretty much dispel the idea of any one factor, any one event, as dooming the mammoths,” researcher Glen MacDonald, a geographer at the University of California, Los Angeles, explained.
Scientists investigated the extinction of woolly mammoths living in Beringia, the last refuge of mammoths that nowadays lies mostly submerged under the icy waters of the Bering Strait, analyzing samples from more than 1,300 woolly mammoths, nearly 450 pieces of wood, nearly 600 archaeological sites and more than 650 peatlands, putting together their ages in order to see how the mammoths changed their environments over time. They also probed genetic material found in fossils, and researchers are confident with their dataset.
“There will be people talking about the incompleteness of the fossil record, and there’ll always be uncertainties here, no question, but the size of our database is thousands of data points, so I think we can see the general patterns,” MacDonald said.
Their results revealed that woolly mammoths flourished in the open steppe of Beringia between 30,000 to 45,000 years ago, relying mostly on lush grass and willow trees.
“That seemed to be very favorable for mammoths, in terms of abundance,” MacDonald said. Humans coexisted with mammoths back then, clearly not driving them to extinction at that time.
Later, about 20-25.000 years ago, during the iciest part of the ice age, northern woolly mammoth populations declined, likely because the area became too barren to be hospitable for the mammoths.
“There was no one event that ended the mammoths,” MacDonald said. “It was really the coalescence of climate changeand the habitat change that triggered [it], and also human predators on the landscape at the end.”
Aside from providing valuable information about mammoths, the findings could shed valuable light on what many species are facing today.
“Mammoths faced profound climate change and very profound changes in their habitat and landscape, and also faced pressure from humans,” MacDonald said. “Now think about the 21st century, where we’re seeing rapid climate change, massive changes in the landscape and certainly pressure from humans on the environment. Species today are facing the same sorts of challenges the mammoths did, but the rate of those changes today are much greater than what mammoths faced.”