Woolly mammoth carcass may have been cut into by humans

By | April 4, 2012

The Yuka mammothYuka was found with many bones missing and cuts that may have been made by ancient hunters

The discovery of a well-preserved juvenile woolly mammoth suggests that ancient humans “stole” mammoths from hunting lions, scientists say.Bernard Buigues of the Mammuthus organisation acquired the frozen mammoth from tusk hunters in Siberia.Scientists completed an initial assessment of the animal, known as Yuka, in March this year.Wounds indicate that both lions and humans may have been involved in the ancient animal’s death.

“Already there is dramatic evidence of a life-and-death struggle between Yuka and some top predator, probably a lion,” says leading mammoth expert, Daniel Fisher, professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Michigan.”Even more interesting, there are hints that humans may have taken over the kill at an early stage.

“If further investigation by Mr Buigues, Professor Fisher and fellow scientists at the Sakha Academy of Sciences in Yakutsk confirms this analysis, it will be the first carcass to show signs of interaction with ancient humans found in this part of the world.

The Yuka mammoth was filmed as part of the BBC/Discovery Co-Production programme Woolly Mammoth: Secrets from the Ice.By analysing the teeth and tusks, the team estimate Yuka was about two and a half years old when it died.Teeth, tusks and bone are the most common ways extinct animals such as mammoths are studied, as these parts of the body take a relatively long time to decompose.Soft tissues such as muscle, skin and internal organs decompose far quicker, and are very rarely found on old carcasses. This means that vital information is usually lost.But much of Yuka’s soft tissue as well as its woolly coat has remained intact, well-preserved in its icy tomb for possibly more than 10,000 years.

Kevin Campbell, associate professor of environmental and evolutionary physiology at the University of Manitoba said: “These are remarkably rare finds and have huge significance.”One of the most striking things about Yuka is its strawberry-blonde hair, he said.The possibility of mammoths having lighter coat colours was proposed in 2006 after scientists studied the genes extracted solely from a mammoth bone.

Yuka provides direct evidence that mammoths did have lighter-coloured coats.Associate Professor Campbell said the find “will be a boon to researchers as it will help them link observed phenotypes morphological features that we can see with genotype DNA sequences”. …

Healed scratches found on the skin indicate a lion attack that Yuka survived earlier in its relatively short life.

However, similar deep cuts that had not healed suggest a subsequent lion attack that either caused or happened very near the time of Yuka’s death.

Also, when moving one of Yuka’s legs, Professor Fisher recognised evidence of a freshly broken leg when it died and suggested this may have occurred as Yuka tried to flee from attackers.

The lions in question (Panthera leo spelea) are an extinct subspecies of the African lion, known commonly as Eurasian cave lions but were present at the same time as the mammoths.

“Did we know lions hunted mammoths? Well, we guessed they did. But could we ever have expected to see such graphic evidence? No – but here it is,” explained Professor Fisher. …
via BBC Nature – Woolly mammoth carcass may have been cut into by humans.

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