The well-preserved body of a strawberry blond mammoth discovered in Northern Siberia is revealing new insights into the lives of mammoths and Ice Age humans.
"Yuka" the mammoth was about three years old when she died tens of thousands of years ago and has been buried in permafrost ever since, said Daniel Fisher, a professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He was one of the researchers studying the body.
"She is about as well preserved as if you put any recently dead animal into cold storage very soon after it died," he told CBC Radio's As It Happens this week.
"That is, her hair looks and feels like regular hair, her skin is soft and supple, her muscle and so forth is still reddish."
Bite marks on her tail and scratches in her hide suggest she was attacked by lions before her death. But there are no bite marks at the base of her trunk and around her mouth which would indicate that the lions tried to suffocate and kill her, nor any evidence that lions opened up her carcass to feed on her after she died.
"That's part of the evidence…that leads us to think that humans may have taken over the carcass from lions," Fisher said. The other part is the fact that large parts of the body were removed, including many internal organs, ribs and vertebrae.
Fisher believes humans who lived at the time may have taken what they wanted from the body and then buried the rest of the carcass to stop other animals from getting at it. That way, they could come back and collect other parts of the mammoth's body later on if they wished.
However, he said, the study is just beginning and researchers expect to uncover more information in the coming weeks or months more of careful investigation.