The frozen carcass of a 37,500-year-old baby mammoth undergoing tests in Japan could finally explain why the beasts were driven to extinction — and shed light on the history of global climate change, scientists said Friday.
The calf — unearthed in May by a reindeer herder in northern Siberia’s remote Yamal-Nenets autonomous region — is virtually intact and even has some fur, although its tail and ear were apparently bitten off.
“This is what we’ve all been waiting for — the chance to explain everything about the mammoth,” said professor Naoki Suzuki of Jikei University School of Medicine in Tokyo, who is leading the first leg of an international study of the carcass structure.
“Our findings will be a big step toward resolving the mystery of their extinction,” Suzuki said at a news conference in Tokyo.
Scientists believe mammoths lived from 4.8 million years ago to around 4,000 years ago, and researchers have debated whether their demise was due to climate change or overhunting by early humans.
The 1.2-meter gray-and-brown mammoth — dubbed Lyuba — arrived in Tokyo on Dec. 29 and underwent a computed tomography scan, Suzuki said. CT scans allow scientists to get 3-D pictures so detailed they allow an almost surgical view into the body.
Lyuba, which appeared to have died with no external wounds and was discovered still frozen, is the best preserved mammoth unearthed yet, according to Sergey Grishin, director of the Shemanovsky Yamal-Nenets Museum.
Scientists hope to analyze the 3-D data to get a better understanding of the mammoth’s internal organs and structure, as well as look for clues about the baby’s diet and why it died, Grishin said.