Woolly mammoth
Overview
 
The woolly mammoth also called the tundra mammoth, is a species of mammoth
Mammoth
A mammoth is any species of the extinct genus Mammuthus. These proboscideans are members of Elephantidae, the family of elephants and mammoths, and close relatives of modern elephants. They were often equipped with long curved tusks and, in northern species, a covering of long hair...

. This animal is known from bones and frozen carcasses from northern North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

 and northern Eurasia
Eurasia
Eurasia is a continent or supercontinent comprising the traditional continents of Europe and Asia ; covering about 52,990,000 km2 or about 10.6% of the Earth's surface located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres...

 with the best preserved carcasses in Siberia
Siberia
Siberia is an extensive region constituting almost all of Northern Asia. Comprising the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, it was part of the Soviet Union from its beginning, as its predecessor states, the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, conquered it during the 16th...

. They are perhaps the most well known species of mammoth.

This mammoth species was first recorded in (possibly 150,000 years old) deposits of the second last glaciation in Eurasia
Eurasia
Eurasia is a continent or supercontinent comprising the traditional continents of Europe and Asia ; covering about 52,990,000 km2 or about 10.6% of the Earth's surface located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres...

.
Encyclopedia
The woolly mammoth also called the tundra mammoth, is a species of mammoth
Mammoth
A mammoth is any species of the extinct genus Mammuthus. These proboscideans are members of Elephantidae, the family of elephants and mammoths, and close relatives of modern elephants. They were often equipped with long curved tusks and, in northern species, a covering of long hair...

. This animal is known from bones and frozen carcasses from northern North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

 and northern Eurasia
Eurasia
Eurasia is a continent or supercontinent comprising the traditional continents of Europe and Asia ; covering about 52,990,000 km2 or about 10.6% of the Earth's surface located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres...

 with the best preserved carcasses in Siberia
Siberia
Siberia is an extensive region constituting almost all of Northern Asia. Comprising the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, it was part of the Soviet Union from its beginning, as its predecessor states, the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, conquered it during the 16th...

. They are perhaps the most well known species of mammoth.

This mammoth species was first recorded in (possibly 150,000 years old) deposits of the second last glaciation in Eurasia
Eurasia
Eurasia is a continent or supercontinent comprising the traditional continents of Europe and Asia ; covering about 52,990,000 km2 or about 10.6% of the Earth's surface located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres...

. It was derived from the steppe mammoth
Steppe mammoth
The steppe mammoth, Mammuthus armeniacus, is an extinct species of Elephantidae, that ranged over most of northern Eurasia during the Middle Pleistocene, 600,000-370,000 years ago....

 (Mammuthus armeniacus).

It disappeared from most of its range at the end of the Pleistocene
Pleistocene
The Pleistocene is the epoch from 2,588,000 to 11,700 years BP that spans the world's recent period of repeated glaciations. The name pleistocene is derived from the Greek and ....

 (10,000 years ago), with a dwarfed race still living on Wrangel Island
Wrangel Island
Wrangel Island is an island in the Arctic Ocean, between the Chukchi Sea and East Siberian Sea. Wrangel Island lies astride the 180° meridian. The International Date Line is displaced eastwards at this latitude to avoid the island as well as the Chukchi Peninsula on the Russian mainland...

 until roughly 1700 BC.

Description

Woolly mammoths are common in the fossil record. Unlike most other prehistoric animals, their remains are often not literally fossilised - that is, turned into stone - but rather are preserved in their organic state. This is due in part to the frozen climate of their habitats, and to their massive size. Woolly mammoths are therefore among the best-understood prehistoric vertebrates known to science in terms of anatomy.

Woolly mammoths lived in two groups which are speculated to be divergent enough to be characterised as subspecies
Subspecies
Subspecies in biological classification, is either a taxonomic rank subordinate to species, ora taxonomic unit in that rank . A subspecies cannot be recognized in isolation: a species will either be recognized as having no subspecies at all or two or more, never just one...

. One group stayed in the middle of the high Arctic, while the other group had a much wider range. The Bering Land Bridge
Bering land bridge
The Bering land bridge was a land bridge roughly 1,000 miles wide at its greatest extent, which joined present-day Alaska and eastern Siberia at various times during the Pleistocene ice ages. Like most of Siberia and all of Manchuria, Beringia was not glaciated because snowfall was extremely light...

 likely played an important role in structuring woolly mammoth populations, acting as an ecological barrier. Recent stable isotope studies of Siberian and New World mammoths has shown there were also differences in climatic conditions on either side of the Bering Land Bridge, with Siberia being more uniformly colder and drier throughout the Late Pleistocene.

While woolly mammoths were not noticeably taller than present-day African elephants, they were larger and heavier. Fully grown mammoth bulls reached heights between 2.8 m (9.2 ft) and 4 m (13.1 ft); the dwarf varieties reached between 1.8 m (5.9 ft) and 2.3 m (7.5 ft). They could weigh up to 8 tonne.

Woolly mammoths had a number of adaptations to the cold, most famously the thick layer of shaggy hair, up to 1 meter in length, with a fine underwool, for which the woolly mammoth is named. The coats were similar to those of muskoxen, and it is likely mammoths moulted in summer. They also had far smaller ears than modern elephants; the largest mammoth ear found so far was only 30 cm (11.8 in) long, compared to 180 cm (70.9 in) for an African elephant. Their skin was no thicker than that of present-day elephants, but unlike elephants, they had numerous sebaceous gland
Sebaceous gland
The sebaceous glands are microscopic glands in the skin that secrete an oily/waxy matter, called sebum, to lubricate and waterproof the skin and hair of mammals...

s in their skin which secreted greasy fat into their hair, improving its insulating qualities. They had a layer of fat up to 8 cm (3.1 in) thick under the skin which, like the blubber
Blubber
Blubber is a thick layer of vascularized adipose tissue found under the skin of all cetaceans, pinnipeds and sirenians.-Description:Lipid-rich, collagen fiber–laced blubber comprises the hypodermis and covers the whole body, except for parts of the appendages, strongly attached to the musculature...

 of whales, helped to keep them warm. Similar to reindeer
Reindeer
The reindeer , also known as the caribou in North America, is a deer from the Arctic and Subarctic, including both resident and migratory populations. While overall widespread and numerous, some of its subspecies are rare and one has already gone extinct.Reindeer vary considerably in color and size...

 and musk oxen, their haemoglobin was adapted to the cold, with three genetic mutations to improve oxygen delivery around the body and prevent freezing.

Other characteristic features included a high, peaked head that appears knob-like in many cave paintings, and a high shoulder hump resulting from long spinous process
Spinous process
The spinous process of a vertebra is directed backward and downward from the junction of the laminae , and serves for the attachment of muscles and ligaments. In animals without an erect stance, the process points upward and may slant forward or backward...

es on the neck vertebrae that probably carried fat deposits. Another feature at times found in cave paintings was confirmed by the discovery of the nearly intact remains of a baby mammoth named Dima. Unlike the trunk lobes of living elephants, Dima's upper lip at the tip of the trunk had a broad lobe feature, while the lower lip had a broad, squarish flap. Their teeth were also adapted to their diet of coarse tundra grasses, with more plates and a higher crown than their southern relatives.

Woolly mammoths had extremely long tusks — up to 5 m (16.4 ft) long — which were markedly curved, to a much greater extent than those of elephants. It is not clear whether the tusks were a specific adaptation to their environment; mammoths may have used their tusks as shovels to clear snow from the ground and reach the vegetation buried below. This is evidenced by flat sections on the ventral surface of some tusks. It has also been observed in many specimens that there may be an amount of wear on top of the tusk that would suggest some animals had a preference as to which tusk on which they rested their trunks.

While preserved specimens of mammoth hair are "a kind of orangey colour", this is believed to be an artifact due to the leaching of pigment during burial. On 6 July 2006, The University of California, San Diego
University of California, San Diego
The University of California, San Diego, commonly known as UCSD or UC San Diego, is a public research university located in the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego, California, United States...

 reported they had sequenced the Mc1r gene
Melanocortin 1 receptor
The melanocortin 1 receptor , also known as melanocyte-stimulating hormone receptor , melanin-activating peptide receptor, or melanotropin receptor, is a G protein-coupled receptor which binds to a class of pituitary peptide hormones known as the melanocortins, of which include adrenocorticotropic...

 that influences hair colour in mammals from woolly mammoth bones. Two versions were found, a fully active (dominant) and a partially active (recessive) gene. In mammals, a partially active Mc1r gene results in red or yellow hair. Mammoths born with one copy of the active gene and one of the partially active gene would have had dark brown or black coats while those with two copies of the inactive gene would have had pale coats, possibly blond or ginger. Varying colours in mammals is usually a form of camouflage linked to survival. The scientists said they were unsure why different coloured mammoths existed as it is unlikely that it would have been an effective survival trait.

Extinction

Most woolly mammoth populations disappeared during the late Pleistocene
Pleistocene
The Pleistocene is the epoch from 2,588,000 to 11,700 years BP that spans the world's recent period of repeated glaciations. The name pleistocene is derived from the Greek and ....

 and early Holocene
Holocene
The Holocene is a geological epoch which began at the end of the Pleistocene and continues to the present. The Holocene is part of the Quaternary period. Its name comes from the Greek words and , meaning "entirely recent"...

, likely due to the combined effects of climate change and hunting by humans. A 2008 study by scientists at Spain's Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales
Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales
The Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales is the National Museum of Natural History of Spain. It is situated in the center of Madrid, by the Paseo de la Castellana. It is managed by the Spanish National Research Council....

 estimated that changes in climate shrank suitable mammoth habitat from 7700000 km² (2,972,986.6 sq mi) 42,000 years ago to 800000 km² (308,881.7 sq mi) 6,000 years ago. Although woolly mammoths survived an even greater loss of habitat at the end of the Saale glaciation 125,000 years ago, at the end of the last ice age humans likely hunted remaining populations to extinction, the same fate that befell many other large Pleistocene animals
Pleistocene megafauna
Pleistocene megafauna is the set of species of large animals — mammals, birds and reptiles — that lived on Earth during the Pleistocene epoch and became extinct in a Quaternary extinction event. These species appear to have died off as humans expanded out of Africa and southern Asia,...

.

A small population of woolly mammoths survived on St. Paul Island, Alaska, until 3,750 BC, while another remained on Wrangel Island
Wrangel Island
Wrangel Island is an island in the Arctic Ocean, between the Chukchi Sea and East Siberian Sea. Wrangel Island lies astride the 180° meridian. The International Date Line is displaced eastwards at this latitude to avoid the island as well as the Chukchi Peninsula on the Russian mainland...

 in the Arctic Ocean
Arctic Ocean
The Arctic Ocean, located in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Arctic north polar region, is the smallest and shallowest of the world's five major oceanic divisions...

  until 1700 BC. Possibly due to their limited food supply, these animals were a dwarf variety
Dwarf elephant
Dwarf elephants are prehistoric members of the order Proboscidea, that, through the process of allopatric speciation, evolved to a fraction of the size of their immediate ancestors...

, much smaller than the original Pleistocene woolly mammoth.

A 2010 study hypothesizes that the decline of the woolly mammoth could have increased temperatures by up to 0.2°C at high latitudes in the northern hemisphere. Mammoths frequently ate birch trees, creating a grassland habitat. With the disappearance of mammoths, birch forests, which absorb more sunlight than grasslands, expanded, leading to regional warming.

History of discovery

Indigenous peoples of Siberia
Indigenous peoples of Siberia
Including the Russian Far East, the population of Siberia numbers just above 40 million people.As a result of the 17th to 19th century Russian conquest of Siberia and the subsequent population movements during the Soviet era, the demographics of Siberia today is dominated by native speakers of...

 had long found what are now known to be woolly mammoth remains, collecting their tusks for the ivory
Ivory
Ivory is a term for dentine, which constitutes the bulk of the teeth and tusks of animals, when used as a material for art or manufacturing. Ivory has been important since ancient times for making a range of items, from ivory carvings to false teeth, fans, dominoes, joint tubes, piano keys and...

 trade. Native Siberians believed these remains to be those of giant mole
Mole (animal)
Moles are small cylindrical mammals adapted to a subterranean lifestyle. They have velvety fur; tiny or invisible ears and eyes; and short, powerful limbs with large paws oriented for digging. The term is especially and most properly used for the true moles, those of the Talpidae family in the...

-like animals that lived underground and died when burrowing to the surface. During the 17th century, reports of these finds would occasionally reach Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

. Europeans generally interpreted the stories based on biblical
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 accounts, as either the remains of behemoth
Behemoth
Behemoth is a mythological beast mentioned in the Book of Job, 40:15-24. Metaphorically, the name has come to be used for any extremely large or powerful entity.-Plural as singular:...

s or giants
Giant (mythology)
The mythology and legends of many different cultures include monsters of human appearance but prodigious size and strength. "Giant" is the English word commonly used for such beings, derived from one of the most famed examples: the gigantes of Greek mythology.In various Indo-European mythologies,...

. The word mammoth first entered the English language
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 during this same period, derived from the local Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n word for the remains, mammant.

The first woolly mammoth remains studied by European scientists were examined by British
British people
The British are citizens of the United Kingdom, of the Isle of Man, any of the Channel Islands, or of any of the British overseas territories, and their descendants...

 scientist Hans Sloane
Hans Sloane
Sir Hans Sloane, 1st Baronet, PRS was an Ulster-Scot physician and collector, notable for bequeathing his collection to the British nation which became the foundation of the British Museum...

 in 1728, and consisted of fossilised teeth and tusks from Siberia. Publishing his findings, Sloane became the first to recognise the remains did not belong to giants or behemoths, but rather to elephant
Elephant
Elephants are large land mammals in two extant genera of the family Elephantidae: Elephas and Loxodonta, with the third genus Mammuthus extinct...

s. Sloane turned to another biblical explanation for the presence of elephants in the Arctic: he believed they had been buried during the biblical Great Flood, and that Siberia had previously been tropical prior to a drastic climate change. Others interpreted Sloane's conclusion slightly differently, arguing the flood had carried elephants from the tropics to the arctic.
It was French
French people
The French are a nation that share a common French culture and speak the French language as a mother tongue. Historically, the French population are descended from peoples of Celtic, Latin and Germanic origin, and are today a mixture of several ethnic groups...

 scientist Georges Cuvier
Georges Cuvier
Georges Chrétien Léopold Dagobert Cuvier or Jean Léopold Nicolas Frédéric Cuvier , known as Georges Cuvier, was a French naturalist and zoologist...

 who, in 1796, first identified the woolly mammoth remains not as modern elephants transported to the Arctic, but as an entirely new species. Most significantly, he argued this species had gone extinct
Extinction
In biology and ecology, extinction is the end of an organism or of a group of organisms , normally a species. The moment of extinction is generally considered to be the death of the last individual of the species, although the capacity to breed and recover may have been lost before this point...

 and no longer existed, a concept that was not widely accepted at the time. (See Extinction section above). Following Cuvier's identification, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach
Johann Friedrich Blumenbach
Johann Friedrich Blumenbach was a German physician, physiologist and anthropologist, one of the first to explore the study of mankind as an aspect of natural history, whose teachings in comparative anatomy were applied to classification of what he called human races, of which he determined...

 gave the woolly mammoth its scientific name in 1799, Elephas primigenius (placing it in the same genus
Genus
In biology, a genus is a low-level taxonomic rank used in the biological classification of living and fossil organisms, which is an example of definition by genus and differentia...

 as the Indian elephant
Indian Elephant
The Indian Elephant is one of three recognized subspecies of the Asian elephant, and native to mainland Asia. Since 1986, Elephas maximus has been listed as endangered by IUCN as the population has declined by at least 50% over the last three generations, estimated to be 60–75 years...

). It was not until 1828 that Joshua Brookes
Joshua Brookes
'Joshua Brookes was a British anatomist and naturalist.He studied under John Hunter in London. He became a teacher of anatomy in London, and the founder of the Brookesian Museum of Comparative Anatomy.This private museum is described in his 1830 catalogue Museum Brookesianum Embracing an Almost...

 recognised the species was distinct enough to warrant a new genus, and reclassified it as Mammuthus primigenius.

Meanwhile, woolly mammoth remains were also being unearthed for the first time in North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

. Mark Catesby noted several large teeth dug up in North Carolina
North Carolina
North Carolina is a state located in the southeastern United States. The state borders South Carolina and Georgia to the south, Tennessee to the west and Virginia to the north. North Carolina contains 100 counties. Its capital is Raleigh, and its largest city is Charlotte...

 in 1743, which African slaves identified as the molars of an elephant. In 1806, William Clark (on a fossil-hunting expedition ordered by President Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

) collected several woolly mammoth specimens from Kentucky
Kentucky
The Commonwealth of Kentucky is a state located in the East Central United States of America. As classified by the United States Census Bureau, Kentucky is a Southern state, more specifically in the East South Central region. Kentucky is one of four U.S. states constituted as a commonwealth...

. Incidentally, Jefferson (who famously had a keen interest in paleontology) is also partially responsible for transforming the word mammoth from a noun describing the prehistoric elephant to an adjective describing anything amazingly large. The first recorded use of the word as an adjective was in a description of a large wheel of cheese given to Jefferson as a gift.

Frozen remains

While frozen mammoth carcasses had been excavated by Europeans as early as 1728 (by German
Germans
The Germans are a Germanic ethnic group native to Central Europe. The English term Germans has referred to the German-speaking population of the Holy Roman Empire since the Late Middle Ages....

 scientist Daniel Messerschmidt), the first mammoth fossil fully documented by modern science was discovered near the delta of the Lena River
Lena River
The Lena is the easternmost of the three great Siberian rivers that flow into the Arctic Ocean . It is the 11th longest river in the world and has the 9th largest watershed...

 in 1799 by Ossip Schumachov, a Siberian hunter. Schumachov allowed it to thaw (a process taking several years) until he could retrieve the tusks for sale to the ivory trade
Ivory trade
The ivory trade is the commercial, often illegal trade in the ivory tusks of the hippopotamus, walrus, narwhal, mammoth, and most commonly, Asian and African elephants....

 in Yakutsk
Yakutsk
With a subarctic climate , Yakutsk is the coldest city, though not the coldest inhabited place, on Earth. Average monthly temperatures range from in July to in January. The coldest temperatures ever recorded on the planet outside Antarctica occurred in the basin of the Yana River to the northeast...

. He then abandoned the specimen, allowing it to largely decay before its recovery, possibly even having been partially devoured by modern wolves. In 1806, Russian botanist Mikhail Adams
Johann Friedrich Adam
Johann Friedrich Adam, later called Michael Friedrich Adams was a botanist from St. Petersburg, Russia....

 rescued what remained of the specimen and brought it to the Zoological Museum of the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg for study. The specimen, which became known as the Adams mammoth
Adams mammoth
The Adams mammoth is the name given to the first complete woolly mammoth skeleton, with skin and flesh still attached, to be recovered by European scientists. The mammoth remains were discovered in 1799 in northeastern Siberia by Ossip Shumachov, an Evenki hunter...

, was stuffed and mounted, and continues to be on display at the Zoological Institute.

Preserved frozen remains of woolly mammoths, with much soft tissue
Soft tissue
In anatomy, the term soft tissue refers to tissues that connect, support, or surround other structures and organs of the body, not being bone. Soft tissue includes tendons, ligaments, fascia, skin, fibrous tissues, fat, and synovial membranes , and muscles, nerves and blood vessels .It is sometimes...

 remaining, have been found in the northern parts of Siberia
Siberia
Siberia is an extensive region constituting almost all of Northern Asia. Comprising the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, it was part of the Soviet Union from its beginning, as its predecessor states, the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, conquered it during the 16th...

. This is a rare occurrence, essentially requiring the animal to have been buried rapidly in liquid or semi-solids such as silt, mud and icy water, which then froze. This may have occurred in a number of ways. Mammoths may have been trapped in bogs or quicksands and either died of starvation or exposure, or drowning if they sank under the surface. The evidence of undigested food in the stomach and seed pods still in the mouth of many of the specimens suggests neither starvation nor exposure are likely. The maturity of this ingested vegetation places the time period in autumn rather than in spring when flowers would be expected. The animals may have fallen through ice into small ponds or potholes, entombing them. Many are certainly known to have been killed in rivers, perhaps through being swept away by river floods. In one location, by the Berelekh River in Yakutia in Siberia, more than 8,000 bones from at least 140 individual mammoths have been found in a single spot, apparently having been swept there by the current.
In 1977, the well-preserved carcass of a seven- to eight-month-old baby woolly mammoth, named "Dima", was discovered. This carcass was recovered from permafrost
Permafrost
In geology, permafrost, cryotic soil or permafrost soil is soil at or below the freezing point of water for two or more years. Ice is not always present, as may be in the case of nonporous bedrock, but it frequently occurs and it may be in amounts exceeding the potential hydraulic saturation of...

 on a tributary of the Kolyma River
Kolyma River
The Kolyma River is a river in northeastern Siberia, whose basin covers parts of the Sakha Republic, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, and Magadan Oblast of Russia. Itrises in the mountains north of Okhotsk and Magadan, in the area of and...

 in northeastern Siberia. This baby woolly mammoth weighed approximately 100 kg (220.5 lb) at death and was 104 cm (40.9 in) high and 115 cm (45.3 in) long. Radiocarbon dating
Radiocarbon dating
Radiocarbon dating is a radiometric dating method that uses the naturally occurring radioisotope carbon-14 to estimate the age of carbon-bearing materials up to about 58,000 to 62,000 years. Raw, i.e. uncalibrated, radiocarbon ages are usually reported in radiocarbon years "Before Present" ,...

 determined Dima died about 40,000 years ago. Its internal organs are similar to those of living elephants, but its ears are only one-tenth the size of those of an African elephant of similar age.

In the summer of 1997, a Dolgan
Dolgans
Dolgans are a Turkic-speaking people, who mostly inhabit Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia. The 2002 Census counted 7,261 Dolgans. This number includes 5,517 in former Taymyr Autonomous Okrug. There are 26 Dolgans in Ukraine, four of whom speak Dolgan .Dolgans speak Dolgan language. Some believe that it is...

 family named Jarkov discovered a piece of mammoth tusk protruding from the tundra of the Taymyr Peninsula
Taymyr Peninsula
The Taymyr Peninsula is a peninsula in the Far North of Russia, in the Siberian Federal District, that forms the northernmost part of mainland Eurasia and Asia...

 in Siberia
Siberia
Siberia is an extensive region constituting almost all of Northern Asia. Comprising the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, it was part of the Soviet Union from its beginning, as its predecessor states, the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, conquered it during the 16th...

, Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

. In September/October 1999, this 20,380-year-old carcass and 25 tons of surrounding sediment were transported by an Mi-26 heavy lift helicopter to an ice cave in Khatanga, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug
Taymyr Autonomous Okrug
Taymyr Dolgano-Nenets Autonomous Okrug , or Taymyria, was a federal subject of Russia , the northernmost in mainland Russia . It is named after the Taymyr Peninsula...

. In October 2000, the careful defrosting operations in this cave began with the use of hairdryers to keep the hair and other soft tissues intact.

In May 2007, the carcass of a female woolly mammoth calf (Lyuba
Lyuba
Lyuba is a female woolly mammoth calf who died ca 40,000 years ago at the age of one month. She is by far the best preserved mammoth mummy in the world, surpassing Dima, a male mammoth calf mummy which had previously been the best known specimen.Discovered in May 2007 by reindeer breeder and...

) was discovered encased in a layer of permafrost
Permafrost
In geology, permafrost, cryotic soil or permafrost soil is soil at or below the freezing point of water for two or more years. Ice is not always present, as may be in the case of nonporous bedrock, but it frequently occurs and it may be in amounts exceeding the potential hydraulic saturation of...

 near the Yuribei River in Russia, where it had been buried for 37,000 years. Scientists originally estimated Lyuba's age at four months. By slicing open her second premolar and analyzing its growth lines—similar to the rings in a tree, though, they found only one month had passed between her birth and death. Alexei Tikhonov, the Russian Academy of Science's Zoological Institutes's deputy director, has dismissed the prospect of cloning the animal, as the whole cells required for cloning would have burst under the freezing conditions; however, DNA
DNA
Deoxyribonucleic acid is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms . The DNA segments that carry this genetic information are called genes, but other DNA sequences have structural purposes, or are involved in...

 is expected to be well-preserved enough to be useful for research on mammoth phylogeny
Phylogenetics
In biology, phylogenetics is the study of evolutionary relatedness among groups of organisms , which is discovered through molecular sequencing data and morphological data matrices...

 and perhaps physiology
Physiology
Physiology is the science of the function of living systems. This includes how organisms, organ systems, organs, cells, and bio-molecules carry out the chemical or physical functions that exist in a living system. The highest honor awarded in physiology is the Nobel Prize in Physiology or...

.

By 1929, the remains of thirty-four mammoths with frozen soft tissues (skin, flesh, or organs) had been documented. Only four of them were relatively complete. Since then, about that many more have been found. In most cases, the flesh shows signs of decay before its freezing and later desiccation. Stories abound about frozen mammoth carcasses that were still edible once defrosted, but the original sources indicate the carcasses were, in fact, terribly decayed, and the stench so unbearable that only the dogs accompanying the finders, and wild scavengers, showed any interest in the flesh.

In addition to frozen carcasses, large amounts of mammoth ivory
Ivory
Ivory is a term for dentine, which constitutes the bulk of the teeth and tusks of animals, when used as a material for art or manufacturing. Ivory has been important since ancient times for making a range of items, from ivory carvings to false teeth, fans, dominoes, joint tubes, piano keys and...

 have been found in Siberia. Mammoth tusks have been articles of trade for at least 2,000 years. They have been and are still a highly prized commodity. Güyük
Guyuk
Guyuk may refer to:*Guyuk, Nigeria, a town*Uğurtaş, a town in Turkey, formerly called Güyük*Güyük Khan , the Great Khan of the Mongol Empire...

, the 13th century Khan of the Mongols, is reputed to have sat on a throne made from mammoth ivory, and even today it is in great demand as a replacement for the now-banned export of elephant ivory.

Genetics and possibilities for cloning

Since there is a known case in which an Asian elephant
Asian Elephant
The Asian or Asiatic elephant is the only living species of the genus Elephas and distributed in Southeast Asia from India in the west to Borneo in the east. Three subspecies are recognized — Elephas maximus maximus from Sri Lanka, the Indian elephant or E. m. indicus from mainland Asia, and E. m....

 and an African elephant have produced a live (though sickly) offspring
Motty
Motty was the only proven hybrid between an Asian and an African elephant. He was named after George Mottershead, who founded the Chester Zoo in 1931...

, it has been theorised that if mammoths were still alive today, they would be able to interbreed with Indian elephants. This has led to the idea that perhaps a mammoth-like creature could be recreated by taking genetic material from a frozen mammoth and combining it with that from a modern Indian elephant.
Scientists hope to retrieve the preserved reproductive organs of a frozen mammoth and revive its sperm cells
Spermatozoon
A spermatozoon is a motile sperm cell, or moving form of the haploid cell that is the male gamete. A spermatozoon joins an ovum to form a zygote...

. However, not enough genetic material has been found in frozen mammoths for this to be attempted. Another possibility for recreating the mammoth is cloning. Fox News reported a team of Japanese scientists feels they are getting closer to this goal. A November 4, 2008 article states they were successful in finding useful DNA
DNA
Deoxyribonucleic acid is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms . The DNA segments that carry this genetic information are called genes, but other DNA sequences have structural purposes, or are involved in...

 of mice that had been frozen for 16 years. The scientists did so by looking in the brain, where high concentrations of sugar had preserved the DNA. They hope to use similar methods to find usable mammoth DNA and implant it into unfertilised Asian elephant eggs.

In spite of not yet being able to retrieve this usable DNA, the scientific community has been successful in studying the phylogeography
Phylogeography
Phylogeography is the study of the historical processes that may be responsible for the contemporary geographic distributions of individuals. This is accomplished by considering the geographic distribution of individuals in light of the patterns associated with a gene genealogy.This term was...

 of the woolly mammoth and determining the complete mitochondrial genome
Mitochondrial DNA
Mitochondrial DNA is the DNA located in organelles called mitochondria, structures within eukaryotic cells that convert the chemical energy from food into a form that cells can use, adenosine triphosphate...

 sequence of Mammuthus primigenius. The analysis demonstrates the divergence of mammoth, African elephant, and Asian elephant occurred over a short time, and confirmed the mammoth was more closely related to the Asian than to the African elephant. As an important landmark in this direction, in December 2005, a team of American, German, and UK researchers were able to assemble a complete mitochondrial DNA profile of the mammoth, which allowed them to trace the close evolutionary relationship between mammoths and Asian elephants. African elephants branched away from the woolly mammoth around 6 million years ago, a moment in time close to that of the similar split between chimps and humans. Before the publication of the Neanderthal genome, many researchers expected the first fully sequenced nuclear genome of an extinct species would be that of the mammoth.

On July,6 2006, the extraction, amplification and sequencing
DNA sequencing
DNA sequencing includes several methods and technologies that are used for determining the order of the nucleotide bases—adenine, guanine, cytosine, and thymine—in a molecule of DNA....

 of Mc1r, a gene
Gene
A gene is a molecular unit of heredity of a living organism. It is a name given to some stretches of DNA and RNA that code for a type of protein or for an RNA chain that has a function in the organism. Living beings depend on genes, as they specify all proteins and functional RNA chains...

 that influences hair colour in mammals, from a 43,000-year old woolly mammoth bone from Siberia
Siberia
Siberia is an extensive region constituting almost all of Northern Asia. Comprising the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, it was part of the Soviet Union from its beginning, as its predecessor states, the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire, conquered it during the 16th...

 was reported.

In November 2008, two professors from Penn State University – Stephan Schuster, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, and Webb Miller, professor of biology, computer science and engineering – were reported to have mapped much of the woolly mammoth's DNA. Their research discovered there were two distinct groups of woolly mammoths: one which went extinct 45,000 years ago, and a different one which went extinct in 10,000 BC. Their research also showed the DNA of the woolly mammoth and the African elephant are 98.55% to 99.4% identical.
While the authors admit they do not know the full size of the genome, they believe they have sequenced about 50% from random fragments.

The team mapped the mammoth's nuclear genome sequence by extracting DNA from the hair follicle of a 20,000 year old mammoth retrieved from permafrost
Permafrost
In geology, permafrost, cryotic soil or permafrost soil is soil at or below the freezing point of water for two or more years. Ice is not always present, as may be in the case of nonporous bedrock, but it frequently occurs and it may be in amounts exceeding the potential hydraulic saturation of...

 and from another mammoth which died some 60,000 years ago. Using hair avoids the problems of DNA contamination caused by bacteria and fungi. Hair follicles preserve DNA because of the plastic-like protection afforded by the hair material.

In January 2011, it was reported by Yomiuri Shimbun
Yomiuri Shimbun
The is a Japanese newspaper published in Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka, and other major Japanese cities. It is one of the five national newspapers in Japan; the other four are the Asahi Shimbun, the Mainichi Shimbun, Nihon Keizai Shimbun, and the Sankei Shimbun...

 that a team of scientists headed by Akira Iritani of Kyoto University
Kyoto University
, or is a national university located in Kyoto, Japan. It is the second oldest Japanese university, and formerly one of Japan's Imperial Universities.- History :...

 had built upon research by Dr. Teruhiko Wakayama of RIKEN
RIKEN
is a large natural sciences research institute in Japan. Founded in 1917, it now has approximately 3000 scientists on seven campuses across Japan, the main one in Wako, just outside Tokyo...

 in Kobe, Japan, saying that they will extract DNA from a mammoth carcass that had been preserved in a Russian laboratory and insert it into the egg cells of an African elephant in hopes of producing a mammoth embryo. The researchers said they hoped to produce a baby mammoth within six years.

Cryptozoology

There have been occasional claims that the woolly mammoth is not actually extinct, and that small isolated herds might survive in the vast and sparsely inhabited tundra
Tundra
In physical geography, tundra is a biome where the tree growth is hindered by low temperatures and short growing seasons. The term tundra comes through Russian тундра from the Kildin Sami word tūndâr "uplands," "treeless mountain tract." There are three types of tundra: Arctic tundra, alpine...

 of the Northern Hemisphere
Northern Hemisphere
The Northern Hemisphere is the half of a planet that is north of its equator—the word hemisphere literally means “half sphere”. It is also that half of the celestial sphere north of the celestial equator...

. In the late nineteenth century, there were, according to Bengt Sjögren (1962), persistent rumors about surviving mammoths hiding in Alaska
Alaska
Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area. It is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait...

. In October 1899, a story about a man named Henry Tukeman detailed his having killed a mammoth in Alaska and that he subsequently donated the specimen to the Smithsonian Institution
Smithsonian Institution
The Smithsonian Institution is an educational and research institute and associated museum complex, administered and funded by the government of the United States and by funds from its endowment, contributions, and profits from its retail operations, concessions, licensing activities, and magazines...

 in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 The museum denied the existence of any mammoth corpse, and the story turned out to be a hoax. Sjögren (1962) believes the myth was started when the American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 biologist Charles Haskins Townsend
Charles Haskins Townsend
Charles Haskins Townsend, Sc.D. was an American zoologist, born at Parnassus, Pennsylvania. From 1897 to 1902 he was connected with the United States Fish Commission, serving as chief of the fisheries division. He then served as director of the New York Aquarium at Castle Garden, from 1902 until...

 travelled in Alaska, saw Eskimo
Eskimo
Eskimos or Inuit–Yupik peoples are indigenous peoples who have traditionally inhabited the circumpolar region from eastern Siberia , across Alaska , Canada, and Greenland....

s trading mammoth tusks, asked if there still were living mammoths in Alaska and provided them with a drawing of the animal.

In the nineteenth century, several reports of "large shaggy beasts" were passed on to the Russian
Russians
The Russian people are an East Slavic ethnic group native to Russia, speaking the Russian language and primarily living in Russia and neighboring countries....

 authorities by Siberian tribesman, but no scientific proof ever surfaced. A French
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 chargé d'affaires
Chargé d'affaires
In diplomacy, chargé d’affaires , often shortened to simply chargé, is the title of two classes of diplomatic agents who head a diplomatic mission, either on a temporary basis or when no more senior diplomat has been accredited.-Chargés d’affaires:Chargés d’affaires , who were...

 working in Vladivostok
Vladivostok
The city is located in the southern extremity of Muravyov-Amursky Peninsula, which is about 30 km long and approximately 12 km wide.The highest point is Mount Kholodilnik, the height of which is 257 m...

, M. Gallon, claimed in 1946 that in 1920 he met a Russian fur-trapper who claimed to have seen living giant, furry "elephants" deep into the taiga
Taiga
Taiga , also known as the boreal forest, is a biome characterized by coniferous forests.Taiga is the world's largest terrestrial biome. In North America it covers most of inland Canada and Alaska as well as parts of the extreme northern continental United States and is known as the Northwoods...

. Gallon added that the fur-trapper did not even know about mammoths before, and he talked about the mammoths as a forest-animal at a time when they were seen as living on the tundra and snow.

In legends

Legends from dozens of Native American tribes have been interpreted by some as indicative of Proboscidea. One example is from the Kaska
Kaska
The Kaska or Kaska Dena are a First Nations people living mainly in northern British Columbia and the southeastern Yukon in Canada. The Kaska language originally spoken by the Kaska is an Athabaskan language....

 tribe from northern British Columbia
British Columbia
British Columbia is the westernmost of Canada's provinces and is known for its natural beauty, as reflected in its Latin motto, Splendor sine occasu . Its name was chosen by Queen Victoria in 1858...

; in 1917 an ethnologist recorded their tradition of: “A very large kind of animal which roamed the country a long time ago. It corresponded somewhat to white men's pictures of elephants. It was of huge size, in build like an elephant, had tusks, and was hairy. These animals were seen not so very long ago, it is said, generally singly, but none have been seen now for several generations. Indians come across their bones occasionally. The narrator said he and some others, a few years ago, came on a shoulder-blade... as wide as a table (about three feet).” However, the animal in this story was predatory and carnivorous, suggesting the memory of the proboscideans had become conflated with that of other megafauna, such as bears and sabertooths.

External links

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