A baby mammoth found in Siberia may have been killed by lions before being snatched by human beings.
Scientists from the Mammuthus organization have completed their initial analysis of the frozen mammoth, known as Yuka, after acquiring it from local tusk hunters.
“Excellently preserved, Yuka bears signs of interactions with a top predator, possibly a lion, as well as with prehistoric humans,” they say.
It appears from healed scratches that the animal had already survived another attack by a Eurasian cave lion; but deep cuts and a broken leg which hadn’t healed imply that a second attack killed or severely weakened it.
Amazingly, though, the carcass bears marks that are completely uncharacteristic of a lion attack. There’s a long, straight cut on the animal’s back, as well as other ‘patterned’ and ‘scalloped’ serrated cuts. These, professor Daniel Fisher of the University of Michigan told the BBC, “could be the saw-like motion of a human tool.”
The skull and pelvis were found near the body, but most of the spine and three quarters of the ribs are missing.
The team estimates that Yuka was about two and a half years old at its time of death, about ten thousand years ago. Nowadays, lions are known to attack baby elephants, but this is the first evidence that mammoths were hunted in the same way, says Fisher.
Much of the soft tissue is still present, along with a fair amount of hair – which is a strawberry blond color, bearing out predictions made in 2006 after a genetic analysis of another carcass.
The discovery of such a well-presweved carcass will help scientists establish a correlation between mammoths’ DNA and such traits as eye and hair color.
The BBC is to air a documentary about Yuka tonight, and it will be shown on the Discovery channel at a later date; there’s a preview here.