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May 29, 2024

Ancient Mammoth Remains Reveal 1,000 km Migration and Coexistence with Humans

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Jan 18, 2024

Mammoth Remains Discovered in Alaska Offer Rare Glimpse into Ice Age Life

The recent discovery of a nearly complete 14,000-year-old woolly mammoth skeleton in central Alaska is providing researchers with an unprecedented look into the life and travels of these extinct creatures during the last Ice Age.

Unearthed near the shores of the Tanana River, the remains include a 6-foot tusk, bones, muscle tissue, and even well-preserved fur. Using advanced analysis of isotopes locked within the mammoth’s tusk, scientists were able to trace this female mammoth’s movements in Alaska over a 20-year period prior to her death. Their findings, published this week in Science Advances, reveal she migrated over 1,000 km (620 miles) across Alaska – an exceptionally long distance for a single mammoth.

“That’s a huge amount of movement for a single mammoth,” said lead author Matthew Wooller, director of the Stable Isotope Laboratory at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. “It likely represents this mammoth responding to environmental changes during her lifetime, moving to find places with good food and water.”

Isotope Analysis Shows 20-Year Journey Across Alaska

The key to retracing this mammoth’s journey came from analysis of isotopic signatures locked within the growth layers of her tusk – essentially providing a chemical record of this mammoth’s travels and diet over the final two decades of her life.

Tusk Section Age Range Location Distance from Initial Site
Base 14,000-13,980 years ago Tanana-Yukon Upland region 0 km
Middle 13,980-13,960 years ago North side of Alaska Range mountains ~500 km
Tip 13,960-14,000 years ago Tanana River Valley ~1,000 km from base

Isotopic analysis indicates she was born in Alaska’s Tanana-Yukon Upland region. As she matured, she migrated northward over 500 km into the Alaska Range mountains. In her final years she traveled back towards central Alaska, where her remains were discovered within 20 km of an ancient human hunting camp along the Tanana River.

“The patterns in this mammoth’s tusk isotopes show her responses to environmental changes during her life,” explained Wooller. “It demonstrates these were highly mobile animals that migrated long distances to survive.”

Find Suggests Mammoths and Humans Coexisted in Alaska

Another key insight was the proximity of this mammoth’s final wanderings and death to an established human camp site along the Tanana River valley. Stone and bone artifacts discovered there confirm it was used as a seasonal hunting location by Ice Age peoples 14,000 years ago.

While humans are not believed to be directly responsible for this mammoth’s death, the geographic link shows direct evidence that mammoths and humans coexisted across Alaska during this period. Most mammoth populations disappeared from North America around 13,000 years ago, likely due to a combination of climate change and human pressures.

“We have a snapshot here of humans occupying the same landscape as woolly mammoths in Alaska,” said Wooller. “This supports growing evidence that humans may have played a more significant role in mammoth extinctions than we realized.”

Future Plans to Extract Ancient DNA for Species Insights

While isotope analysis has traced this mammoth’s extensive travels across Alaska prior to her death by the Tanana River, many mysteries remain about her life, social connections, and the broader mammoth populations of that time.

To glean further insights, Wooller and colleagues now plan to attempt extraction and sequencing of ancient DNA preserved within the mammoth’s remains. Comparative analysis could determine evolutionary relationships and genetic diversity between this mammoth and others that inhabited North America during the late Pleistocene period.

“Ancient DNA analysis can help us understand aspects like genetic diversity and connectedness of mammoth population in Alaska and Yukon,” explained Wooller. “It’s information we just can’t get from isotopes alone.”

The prospect of analyzing well-preserved mammoth DNA, in tandem with the already completed isotopic tracking, offers an unprecedented opportunity to illuminate the complex ecology and behavior of woolly mammoths in Alaska during their last days on Earth.

“We’re hopeful DNA sequencing can unlock even more insights on this remarkable mammoth,” added Wooller. “There’s still so much to understand about mammoths’ lives and ultimate extinction.”

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By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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