Science

Mammoth Carcass Rewrites Human History In Arctic

The last couple of decades have seen archaeologists rolling back the clock on human habitation at various locations across the globe. In another notable contribution to this trend, paleontologists announced the discovery of a mammoth carcass that had been killed and butchered in northern Siberia around 45,000 years ago.

Mammoth Carcass Rewrites Human History In Arctic

This new study suggests anatomically modern humans lived in far North Siberia as early as 45,000 years ago, indicating humans were significantly more technologically advanced at the time than previously thought. A paper discussing the remarkable Siberian mammoth carcass find was published this week in the latest edition of Science.

Details on Siberian mammoth carcass

This fortuitous discovery was made by an 11-year-old boy in a frozen bluff near the Arctic Ocean back in the summer of 2012. While exploring the area around Yenisei Bay, about 1250 miles south of the North Pole, he saw bones poking out of the frozen ground. Paleontologists who excavated the amazingly well-preserved woolly mammoth soon found out it had been killed by humans, as its eye sockets, ribs, and jaw had been damaged by worked blades, and a spear-point even left a dent in the ancient giant’s cheekbone.

“This is well-supported evidence for humans being that far North at 45,000 years ago,” lead author of the new study Vladimir Pitulko noted in a recent interview.

Of note, scientists have found evidence that ancient humans lived in Siberia in the past. Researchers have also recently analyzed the genome of a 45,000-year-old man in western Siberia, but that find was just above the 57 degrees North latitude line. The new mammoth discovery moves the human populated region at that time to more than 72 degrees North.

“That’s a huge difference which gives us a new impression of how people would be spreading across the planet,” Pitulko explains.

Possible evidence for earlier human inhabitation of North America

This new find also has important ramifications for the history of the peopling of the Americas. The location of the mammoth carcass puts human populations very close to the path that humans took in traveling from Eurasia to the Americas.

The researchers point out that there was land bridge across the Bering Strait in the last Ice Age. It is believed that the land bridge stretched all the way from Siberia to Alaska.

However, to cross that land bridge early humans would have to pass through parts of the Arctic, and the prevailing view was that human technology was sufficiently developed to do this 45,000 years ago.

This new mammoth kill find makes it clear some humans were able to survive in an arctic environment, which makes it much more plausible that humans made it to present-day Alaska and further into North America a lot earlier than textbooks say today.

However, keep in mind that we cannot be 100% sure that it was modern humans (Homo sapiens) that actually killed and butchered the ancient woolly mammoth. There is at least a chance that the kill was made by a late-surviving group of an archaic human species such as Neanderthals or their recently discovered close cousins the Denisovans.