How scientists tracked a woolly mammoth’s 1,000km journey using its tusk

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As it happens6:35 a.m.How scientists tracked a woolly mammoth’s 1,000km journey using its tusk

With nothing more than a tusk, researchers were able to retrace the 1,000 kilometer journey of a woolly mammoth that lived 14,000 years ago.

“The fact that we can actually regenerate its movement, its place in a landscape… all of that comes from some remains at this site (that) give us insight into the behavior of an animal that once existed and lived with the ancestors of the first people from here. Canada,” said Hendrik Poinar, an evolutionary biologist at McMaster University. As it happens host Nil Köksal.

“I think it’s really remarkable.”

The new studypublished Wednesday in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances, follows the journey of the mammoth, named Elma, from western Yukon to interior Alaska, where she likely lived side by side with humans.

The tusk responsible for all the information is approximately six feet long and was found in Swan Point, Alaska. Matthew Wooller, director of the Alaska Stable Isotope Facility at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, led a team of researchers who looked at isotopes in defense and then compared them to levels found in the landscape at that time.

Poinar says the layers of the defense can provide many details about its location.

“In the case of a tusk, it’s kind of like sugar cones on ice cream stacked against each other. So you have these long extensions of annual growth on these tusks,” Poinar said.

Poinar leads a team that performed genomic sequencing of the remains of eight woolly mammoths, including Elma’s found at Swan Point.

“What Elma’s tusk seems to show is that she was frequently in this location, probably using it as breeding grounds, hunting grounds, grazing grounds. And at some point, hunters are using the ground for food,” Poinar said.

a man stands on a table with large curved tusks.
Researcher Matthew Wooller poses with mammoth tusks at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (JR survey)

Coexist with humans

Elma takes its name from the village council of Healy Lake, Alaska, who named it Élmayuujey’eh. When she still roamed the Earth, she was at least ten feet tall with shaggy brown fur, a sloping back, a heavy pair of tusks, and large feet adapted to withstand the cold.

Elma, who was around 20 years old when she died, found her final resting place in an area of ​​Alaska that was likely a camp for early humans.

“She was a young adult in the prime of her life,” Wooller said in a University of Alaska news release. “Her isotopes showed that she was not malnourished and that she died in the same season as the Swan Point seasonal hunting camp where her tusk was found.”

Poinar says Elma was likely killed by humans who were hunting big game, such as mammoths, in the area.

Researchers say evidence of human presence comes from found objects that were likely used as darts or spears, similar to weapons used in Siberia, where mammoth hunting has been documented.

But Poinar doesn’t believe humanity is responsible for the extinction of mammoths.

“It is not surprising that a tribe in need of food would hunt big game, as it is a huge source of protein, fat and exploitable materials, with bone and ivory for everything from l “art to tools and weapons,” said Poinar, who believes the tusk they discovered was likely used as an anvil.

Poinar says research not only helps us understand the past, but it also shapes how we view the future.

“I think it’s important to understand how early humans and these large animals interacted in this landscape,” Poinar said.

“The way these animals ultimately disappeared shows how we need to be very careful about global warming.”

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