The 45,000-year-old remains of a giant mammoth, discovered in a remote area in central Siberia, threatens to challenge our understanding of human history. Although remarkably well-preserved underneath a permafrost embankment near the Arctic Ocean, the carcass contained several signs of weapon-inflicted trauma, possibly caused by hunters. The discovery, according to the archaeologists, indicates that human expansion into the northernmost reaches of the world might have taken place much earlier than commonly thought.
First discovered in 2012 at the place where the Yenisei river flows into the Arctic Ocean, the skeletal remains of this ancient animal were later excavated by a team of researchers from the Russian Academy of Sciences, led by Vladimir Pitulko and Alexei Bystrov. Despite their excellent condition, however, the bones showed jarring signs of injury, including a shattered mandible, broken ribs, deep incisions in the left scapula, and also a round hole running straight through the interior jugal in the skull. Speaking about the discovery, recently published in Science, Pitulko said:
When the frozen block with the carcass arrived in St. Petersburg, I went to the Zoological Museum to look at bones and a tusk. The second bone which I picked up (that was the fifth left rib) had a clear pattern of human impact. Then other injuries were discovered.
Believed to have been inflicted by hunters, the battered mammoth carcass is likely the oldest evidence of human expansion into the Arctic Circle. Radiocarbon dating of the bones and soil samples retrieved from the site revealed that the ancient animal was slaughtered some 45,000 years ago, in a place where humans weren’t supposed to have arrived for another 10,000 years. According to conventional history, the closest evidence of human presence in the region is from dig sites situated around 1,000 miles south of the current spot. Pitulko added:
We [now] know that the eastern Siberia up to its Arctic limits was populated starting at roughly 50,000 years ago. This makes our window into the remote part [of the planet] open wider.
The ability to survive in such extreme climate, the archaeologists believe, was intrinsically related to certain technological advancements, such as the use of ivory hunting spears. If these advances were already achieved 45,000 years ago, then people could probably have reached North America around that period. This could change our understanding of early human history, according to which the first evidence of human habitation in North America dates back to only 15,000 years in the past. The team explicated:
These findings are bringing more questions than answers. They are going to change the story of our spread across the planet.