Showing posts with label mammoths. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mammoths. Show all posts

January 16, 2016

Andre Norton Messed with my Mind

Reconstruction of a man checking the roof
on his house framed with mammoth bones.
(The Mammoth Site, Hot Springs, S.D.)

Recent Web-surfing (Do people still say that?) led me this fascinating article on Gizmodo: "A Mysterious Mammoth Carcass Could Change Human History."

The problem was that I read as far as this line — "A rounded hole through the interior jugal" —and immediately I think, "A bullet hole! Time travelers!" (And as a second thought, "What caliber for mammoth?")

Whose fault is that? Andre Norton's — pen name of Mary Alice Norton (1912–2005), who published in days when female SF writers pretty much had publish under male names for a nearly all-male readership.

Specifically I am thinking of her novel The Time Traders (1958). Wikipedia summarizes the beginning of The Time Traders
At the end of the Twentieth Century petty crook Ross Murdock is given the choice of facing a new medical procedure called Rehabilitation or volunteering to join a secret government project.

Hoping for a chance to escape, Ross volunteers to join Operation Retrograde and is taken by Major John Kelgarries to a base built under the ice near the North Pole. Teamed with archaeologist Gordon Ashe, he is trained to mimic a trader of the Beaker culture of Bronze-Age Europe.
(The Time Traders and one of its sequels, Key Out of Time, are available as free e-book downloads from Project Gutenberg.)

When I read it, after finding it in my tiny branch county library in Lakewood, Colo., I was maybe 11. It was not a good time— my parents had separated — Dad had moved out —and my mother was seeing some counselor whose office was in the same strip mall, so she would park me at the library. Then he moved back in — I was so glad —and then he moved out again. So maybe that was actually a good time for time travelers and for thinking about that evocative phrase, "the Beaker People."

Meanwhile, about that mammoth.
This 45,000 year-old mammoth’s life ended violently at the hands of hunters. That wouldn’t be surprising—it’s well known that Pleistocene humans were expert mammoth killers—but for the location. It was excavated from a permafrost embankment at Yenisei bay, a remote spot in central Siberia where a massive river empties into the Arctic Ocean.

That makes this brutalized mammoth the oldest evidence for human expansion into the high Arctic by a wide margin. Its discovery, published today in Science, might push back the timeline for when humans entered the northernmost reaches of the world—including the first entries into North America.
Reading about it is still a form of time travel, but I want to go to the Bronze Age via a secret base in the Arctic, damnit.

August 27, 2013

Mammoths, Mushrooms, and Extinction

Coprophilic fungus offers a clue to the extinction of North American mammoths, seeming to point away from the "Pleistocene overkill" hypothesis. Maybe.

The debate continues here at the Vanished Giants blog.

(I chose the title for the alliteration. It is fungus but not really a mushroom. But it was on the Cornell Mushroom Blog. OK?)

July 31, 2013

Cloning Mammoths is Harder than You Think

Woolly mammoth left, American mastodon right (Wikipedia).
As much as I cherish the idea of a "Pleistocene Park" with woolly mammoths wandering around, the lack of good cellular material is a huge obstacle.

In a Guardian article, Sir Ian Wilmut of Dolly the sheep fame describes the problems.
Though it is unlikely that a mammoth could be cloned in the same way as Dolly, more modern techniques that convert tissue cells into stem cells could potentially achieve the feat, Wilmut says in an article today for the academic journalism website, The Conversation.
"I've always been very sceptical about the whole idea, but it dawned on me that if you could clear the first hurdle of getting viable cells from mammoths, you might be able to do something useful and interesting," Wilmut told the Guardian.
 First we get mammoths (or mastodons), then we get them to eat tamarisk.

March 15, 2012

Pleistocene Park, continued

The Pleistocene, when men were men and mammoth bones framed your house.
(Mammoth Site museum, Hot Springs, South Dakota)
Russian and Korean scientists are moving ahead with a plan not to breed mammoths exactly, but to inject mammoth DNA into elephant eggs and then implant the eggs in female Indian elephants. 
Mammoth remains were uncovered in thawed Siberian permafrost, and scientists around the world have been trying to extract DNA from the remains. Previously, paleobiologists were able to reproduce mammoth blood protein, and Japanese researchers want to resurrect the mammoth within five years. This new project will move forward if the Russian institution, the North-Eastern Federal University of the Sakha Republic, can ship its mammoth remains to the Koreans.
I reckon that the Russians are thinking "Pleistocene Park tourist attraction" while the Koreans . . . will do anything—or at least Hwang Woo-Suk will. Jeju Island might make a good Pleistocene Park, come to think of it.

But since mammoths used to roam the American Southwest, I think that if successfully recreated or hybridized, they should be released into the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. Lots of different habitats there, and I like the idea of them splashing through Médano Creek.

November 22, 2009

Reading Mammoth Dung for Fun and Profit

Image from BBC News.

A study of pollen in mammoth and other megafaunal dung offers more evidence for the climate-versus-overkill debate.

Frankly, I wonder why anyone is talking about asteroids at this point. Was that the reporter's confusion?

"Overkill" refers to the theory that the arrival of humans—in this case, in North America—led to a fairly rapid extinction of big, slow animals.

Some similar happened in Polynesia, the Caribbean, and elsewhere, as documented in Paul Martin's Twilight of the Mammoths: Ice Age Extinctions and the Rewilding of America.

The place to see lots of mammoth skeletons and reconstructions is here.

October 07, 2009

The Hot Springs Mammoth Site & Other Proboscid News

Earthwatch volunteers at The Mammoth Site. Photo by Chas S. CliftonAbove: Earthwatch volunteers excavate Columbian mammoth skeletons. The skull of a short-faced bear sits on the green sheet of paper at lower center.

Thirty-five years ago a bulldozer operator clearing ground for a subdivision on the edge of Hot Springs, South Dakota, grazed some Columbian mammoth bones—and realized that he had hit something important.

Today that spot is The Mammoth Site, a combination of working excavation, museum, laboratory, and gift shop.

Its structure covers a site that 25,000 years ago was a sinkhole that trapped dozens of mammoths who, perhaps while grazing in lush vegetation growing by the warm spring water, slipped in and could not climb out. (This was thousands of years before the accepted date of human arrival in North America.)

It is disquieting and sad, as M. noted, that all these big animals died struggling to breathe—except, perhaps, the short-faced bear. Did it climb down to gorge on mammoth meat and eat itself to death? Couldn't a big, agile bear make it up the slippery slope of decomposed shale? Or not?

It's a little touristy—get your mammoth hand puppets and key chains here—but definitely worth seeing.


In other ancient proboscid news, a baby Siberian woolly mammoth found nearly intact has provided more information about the species not obtainable from fossils.

"We had no idea from preserved skeletons and preserved carcasses that young mammoths had a discrete structure on the back of the head of brown fat cells," said Prof [Daniel] Fisher.

Meanwhile, on June 1, 2009 two Colorado boys were poking around in a creek bed. They were not engaged in organized youth activities, mentored by adults and involving clear boundaries and a rulebook. They almost certainly were not wearing helmets.

"We were just thinking about walking up and down that stream and looking at the side of the banks to see if we see anything," said Tyler [Kellett] . "That would be fun."

They found a mastodon skeleton.