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The Woolly Mammoth

    There is probably no animal more widely acknowledged as symbolizing the prehistoric North than the woolly mammoth. Although the remains of many mammoths have been discovered, none have excited the public's imagination like Siberia's "Jarkov Mammoth". The distinct possibility that with the current state of cloning technology, a "new" mammoth can be created has fired many people's imagination. (To see more detail in the mammoth's world, click the painting to enlarge it)

    Woolly mammoths roamed the northern plains for most of the last 2 million years or so, until just 10,000 years ago. A subject of controversy for many years, it is generally agreed now that mammoths died out from a combination of changing climate, hunting pressure from humans, and probably disease.

    Most of the 100 or so mammoths found to date appear to have gotten trapped and died in swamps or soft soil, or to have been buried by avalanches. The Jarkov Mammoth seems to have gotten stuck in mud in the bottom of a creek. Found on Siberia's Taimyr Peninsula in 1997 by a 9-year-old boy, this mammoth was about 47 years old when he died just over 20,000 years ago.

    Finding mammoth bones is not at all unusual for the native people of the region, the Dolgan. Roaming the land with their herds of reindeer, they often come across partial skeletons as they melt out of the permafrost. The apparent condition of the Jarkov Mammoth, however, makes it a unique find.

    A French mammoth-hunter, Bernard Buigues spearheaded the successful project to recover the Jarkov Mammoth. Encased in a 23-tonne block of ice and mud, the remains were flown 200 miles to Khatanga, slung under the world's largest helicopter.

    The contents of the block of ice and mud are still not known in detail, but hair sticks out at many points, indicating that the body may be virtually complete. It is being thawed out by a team of 25 scientists in an ice cave at Khatanga.

    Although the mammoth was found by a Dolgan boy, interest in his people seems to have faded quite quickly. My first question, given the vast sums of money being spent on recovery and research, is "How much did the Jarkov family get for their find?"

    For most people, the question of primary importance now is "Even if we can clone this mammoth, should we? If we do, what will become of the clone and its decendants?

  • "Wooly" and "woolly" are both correct spellings - one "L" being the American useage, two "LL"s for British.

    All About Mammoths
    A good introduction by EnchantedLearning.com.

    Commemorative Covers from Jarkov Project
    At each stage of the recovery of the Jarkov Mammoth, special envelopes were printed and stamped.

    Mammoth comes in from the cold
    An October 21, 1999 report on the Jarkov mammoth, from the BBC.

    Russian Paleontological Institute
    A couple of photos of mammoth skulls and a complete skeleton in the collection.

    What Killed the Mammoths?
    An article and video from the Christian Science Monitor.

    Woolly Mammoth
    This excellent site for students includes a Mammoth Quiz, a timeline and an animated migration map.


    Arctic & Northern Animals