The carcass of a frozen Woolly mammoth found in Siberia has revealed the earliest known evidence of humans in the Arctic 45,000 years ago, not 35,000 years ago, as previously thought.
An 11-year-old Russian boy, Evgeniy Solinder, first made the gruesome discovery back in August 2012, while sightseeing the coast of Yenisei Bay, around 1,242 miles (2,000 km) south of the North Pole. He stumbled upon the leg bones of the mammoth where the frozen sediments had worn away.
The researchers found that the woolly mammoth had signs of weapon-inflicted injuries, which suggests humans were present in the Eurasian Arctic 10 millennia earlier than previously thought. Because paleolithic records of humans in the Eurasian Arctic are rare, this may be the oldest known story of human survival in the Arctic region.
“The site in Siberia is by far the northernmost sign of human presence in Eurasia before 40,000 years ago,” Vladimir Pitulko, senior research scientist at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for the History of Material Culture in St. Petersburg, and lead author of the study, wrote. The study was published in the journal, Science.
The team, led by archaeologist Alexei Tikhonov, used radiocarbon dating of the animal’s tibia bone as well as surrounding materials. They named the mammoth “Zhenya,” the nickname of the boy who found it.
According to Science:
“The injuries reminded Tikhonov of more modern human hunting practices. Elephant hunters in Africa, for example, often target the base of the trunk to cut arteries, causing the animal to bleed to death.
“The mammoth also had injuries to its jaw that suggest the tongue was cut out. Pieces of the tusk were removed, perhaps to get ivory to produce tools. ‘This is a rare case for unequivocal evidence for clear human involvement’,” Pitulko said.
The people who endured the harsh Arctic conditions would have likely lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Mammoths being the largest land creatures in the region, would have been an important resource for them.
Pitulko told Discovery News:
“Mammoth tusks were the main target for them, providing raw materials to produce long points and full-size spears, becoming a substitute for wood that equipped spears with shafts.
“This is especially important for questions related to the peopling of the New World, because now we know that eastern Siberia up to its Arctic limits was populated starting at roughly 50,000 years ago.”
The researchers believe that advancements in hunting mammoths would have most likely allowed people to survive, and spread across the northernmost Arctic Siberia around this time. Humans presence in this region also suggests they had the ability to make tools, warm clothes, and erect shelters, which would have allowed them to live so far north earlier than thought.
This represents an important cultural shift, one that would have likely facilitated the arrival of humans close to the Bering land bridge, which would have provided them an opportunity to enter the New World before the Last Glacial Maximum, the researchers added.
Daniel Fisher, a mammoth expert at the University of Michigan who didn’t participate in the study, told Phys.org:
“The markings on the mammoth bone strongly indicate human hunting. It makes sense to conclude that the hunters were from our own species rather than Neanderthals.”
However, Robert Park, an archaeologist at the University of Waterloo in Canada, who has studied the bones of hunted animals in the far north, told Phys.org: “The evidence for human hunting is ‘pretty marginal.’
“The beast had been found with remains of its fat hump, while hunters would be expected to take the fat for food and fuel, he said. And the skeleton shows far less butchering than one would expect.”
According to Science, Ted Goebel, an archaeologist at Texas A&M University College Station, said:
“Surviving at those latitudes requires highly specialized technology and extreme cooperation. That implies that these were modern humans, rather than Neandertals, or other early members of the human family.
“If these hunters could survive in the Arctic Circle 45,000 years ago, they could have lived virtually anywhere on Earth.”