Back in August of 2012, the leg bones of a woolly mammoth were discovered on the coast of Yenisei Bay, approximately 2,000 kilometers south of the North Pole. The bones were eroding out of frozen sediments, and after further analysis, scientists determined from the unique wounds that it was killed by humans using spears. After dating the remains, they discovered that they were from 45,000 years ago, meaning that humans inhabited the arctic about 10,000 years earlier than we previously believed, as explored in a new study by scientists from the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Analysis of the fossils revealed hunting techniques reminiscent of modern ones - for example, elephant hunters in Africa typically aim for the base of the trunk in order to cut arteries and cause bleeding. Similarly, the mammoth remains had many jaw injuries that suggest its tongue was cut out.
"This is a rare case for unequivocal evidence for clear human involvement," Vladimir Pitulko, lead author of the study, said in a press release.
The injuries are also similar to the damage seen in the remains of another mammoth found in Siberia.
"One can almost see the blow-by-blow battle between people and mammoth fought on those frozen plains," said Curtis Marean, a paleoanthropologist who was not involved with the study. "The impact wounds on the bones with embedded stone fragments is conclusive evidence that people slayed this mammoth."
The researchers performed techniques on the collagen gathered from the mammoth's tibia bone as well as hair and muscle tissue to obtain the reported age.
"The dating is compelling. It's likely older than 40,000," said Douglas Kennett, an environmental archaeologist who also did not participate in the study, although he believes that the team should report the specific technique that they used in order to rule out the possibility of contamination.
Given the nature of the conditions where the fossil was found, the wounds on the mammoth were likely created by modern humans as opposed to Neanderthals.
"Surviving at those latitudes requires highly specialized technology and extreme cooperation," Marean said. "If these hunters could survive in the Arctic Circle 45,000 years ago, they could have lived virtually anywhere on Earth."
The findings were published in the Jan. 15 issue of Science.