An ancient woolly mammoth left a diary in her tusk
The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Sunday, July 14, 2024

An ancient woolly mammoth left a diary in her tusk
In an image provided by the university, Matthew Wooller, director of the stable isotope facility at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Wooller was part of a group of scientists that figured out how to use layers of minerals left behind on mammoth tusks to track where the animals once lived. (J.R. Ancheta/University of Alaska Fairbanks via The New York Times)

by Carl Zimmer

NEW YORK, NY.- Scientists have written the biography of a 14,000-year-old female woolly mammoth by analyzing the chemicals in her tusk.

The animal, nicknamed Elma, was born in what is now the Yukon and stayed close to her birthplace a decade before moving hundreds of miles west into central Alaska, the study found. There she remained until she reached about 20, when she was most likely taken down by hunters.

Scientists are beginning to tell such ancient stories by looking at the layers of minerals that once accumulated each day on the outside of the tusks of mammoths and mastodons. As researchers study more tusks, they hope to settle some of the biggest questions about how the hulking mammals thrived for hundreds of thousands of years. They are also gathering clues to how mammoths and mastodons became extinct at the end of the ice age — perhaps with some help from humans.

“There are answers out there,” said Joshua Miller, a University of Cincinnati paleoecologist who was not involved in the new study but who has cut open a mastodon tusk in Indiana. He said it would be necessary to look at many tusks that spanned thousands of years.

“We’re just starting to build it,” Miller said, “and that’s exciting.”

Woolly mammoths grew their tusks much like living elephants do. Each day, a thin, cone-shaped layer of minerals built up on the tip.

“I like to describe it as ice cream cones stacked on top of each other,” said Matthew Wooller, director of the stable isotope facility at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Much like tree rings, the cones remained fairly distinct even after the animal died. Researchers started analyzing this chemical record in the 1980s, gaining clues about how baby mammoths weaned from their mothers and how their diet changed with the seasons.

More recently, Wooller and his colleagues figured out how to use mammoth tusks to track where the animals lived over the course of their life. They did so by measuring strontium, an element found in trace amounts in the plants the animals ate. If a mammoth spent a day grazing somewhere with a lot of strontium in the soil, the cone of minerals it grew that day would have a high level of strontium.

In a 2021 study, Wooller and his colleagues analyzed the strontium in a tusk of a 17,100-year-old male mammoth. Kik, as they nicknamed the animal, died far above the Arctic Circle when he was 28. The scientists cut open one of his 8-foot-long tusks with a huge band saw.

The layers at the tip of his tusk had strontium levels that matched the site where he had been unearthed. The researchers then looked at a layer formed a week before his death and searched a geochemical map for places where Kik might have been that had a matching strontium level. The team worked back through time, week after week, piecing together Kik’s whereabouts over the course of his life.

As it turned out, Kik grew up far from the northern reaches where he met his end. When he was a young mammoth, he followed his herd around eastern Alaska. In his adult years, Kik moved widely across central Alaska. And in the last 18 months of his life, he ended up on the north side of the Brooks Range, where he likely died of starvation.

In the new study, published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, Wooller and his colleagues examined Elma’s 6-foot-long tusk. Unlike Kik, her remains were found by Chuck Holmes, an archaeologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, at the Swan Point archaeological site in Alaska. While Kik died far from people, Elma’s remains ended up in a hunting and fishing camp; she may have been the victim of a hunt.

Exactly when people first arrived in North America is still an open question. But Swan Point, dating back 14,000 years, is the oldest unequivocal archaeological site in Alaska.

By the time people camped there, woolly mammoths had been in North America for about 100,000 years. During the ice age, they thrived on the dry grasslands north of the glaciers. But as the ice age drew to a close, bogs and shrubs began encroaching on their habitat.

After humans arrived in Alaska, they overlapped with woolly mammoths for about 1,000 years before the animals went extinct there. Woolly mammoths also vanished from Siberia, surviving for a few thousand more years on remote islands. Scientists have long debated whether climate changes or humans drove these extinctions.

Elma started out in life far to the west of Kik’s range, the researchers found. Later, her herd migrated east. “Maybe resources dried up there, and it just spent a while trying to find another preferable area to live in,” said Audrey Rowe, a graduate student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who cut open Elma’s tusk.

Like Kik, Elma tended to stick to high-altitude grasslands. In fact, Elma ended up spending her final years in the same region where Kik had roamed as a young adult 3,000 years before.

Elma’s journey also took her near people. “She spent the last few years of her life wandering around in an area that happened to have evidence for some of the earliest archaeological sites,” Wooller said. “So then we started to connect the dots.”

After consulting with the Healy Lake Village Council, an organization of Indigenous people who live in the Swan Point region, the researchers hypothesized that early Alaskans searched the landscape for places with woolly mammoths and bison. “If they’re there year-round, that is like gold to an early hunter-gatherer,” said Benjamin Potter, an archaeologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who was also on the team.

As the ice age came to an end, woolly mammoths like Elma and Kik might have become easier to find because they had smaller stretches of grassland on which to graze. To Rowe, this combination of climate change and hunting may explain why woolly mammoths disappeared from Alaska when they did.

“In Alaska, mammoths would have gone extinct anyway regardless if humans were hunting them or not,” she speculated. “If anything, humans just hastened their demise.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Today's News

January 19, 2024

An ancient woolly mammoth left a diary in her tusk

Adele, Beyoncé, the Sphere: How Es Devlin reinvented modern spectacle

First issue of 'Amazing Spider-Man' swings to record-setting $1.38 million at Heritage Auctions

At art fraud trial, Sotheby's is pressed on role in sales to Russian oligarch

California's most iconic roadside attractions

Auction of Nelson Mandela items set after court fight with government

The ancient back story of the slimiest animal in the sea

The London Antique Rug & Textile Art Fair to hold Winter edition at Evolution London

Jeffrey Gibson opening a new UK solo exhibition at Stephen Friedman Gallery

New rotation of Museo del Barrio's most ambitious presentation of its permanent collection on view to March 10th

Saatchi Yates presents exhibition to mark start of new relationship with Neil Stokoe Estate

Michael Simpson at Modern Art, Helmet Row

Solo exhibition of works by Brooklyn-based artist Cathleen Clarke at Margot Samel

Pierce Brosnan pleads not guilty to hiking illegally at Yellowstone

Peter Schickele, composer and gleeful sire of P.D.Q. Bach, dies at 88

Some movies hit close to home. His was filmed there.

Sarah Stackhouse, star interpreter of José Limón, dies at 87

Broadway next for 'Stereophonic'

'Sheher, Prakriti, Devi' an exhibition that marks artist and photographer Gauri Gill's first extensive curation

Notions of intersubjectivity between vision and immersion in the physical world explored by Kiwha Lee

Reimagine art and the world at 'Light to Night Singapore 2024'

Johannes Wohnseifer presents his 10th exhibition at KÖNIG GALERIE

Top Reasons to Rent a Car in Dubai

How to Ensure Financial Security for Women in Divorce Cases?

The Advantages and Challenges of Custom Double-Bladed Lightsaber

Top 5 Makeup Ideas to Glam Up Your Adrianna Papell Dresses [2024]

How to Plan a Quinceanera Party: The Ultimate Checklist

Maximizing Your Small Office: Furniture Solutions for Limited Space in the Philippines

Canadian Winter RV Travel Essentials: Choosing the Best Portable Generator

Pump up the Fun: A Deep Dive into Swimming Pool Pumps

Choosing the Right Background for Your Headshot: A Photographer's Perspective

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez
Writer: Ofelia Zurbia Betancourt

Truck Accident Attorneys
Accident Attorneys

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site Parroquia Natividad del Señor
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful