The smoking gun 'proving ancient man killed woolly mammoth 45,000 years ago'
By Anna Liesowska / Siberian Times
When Science journal earlier this year highlighted an ancient woolly mammoth with suspected spear wounds it provoked media interest around the world. Until now, the pictures of the remarkable prehistoric 'injuries' were not widely seen outside academic circles.
Today The Siberian Times is publishing the images which respected Russian scientists believe is clear proof of ancient man's attacks on a creature preserved in the permafrost.
If true, the implications are enormous. It would mean, firstly, that man was present in the frozen Arctic wastes a full 10,000 years earlier than previously understood.
Yet it would also establish that early Siberians were just 2,895 miles (4,660 kilometres) from what was then a land bridge between modern Russia and Alaska. A long distance, for sure, but far from insurmountable, opening the possibility that Stone Age Siberians colonised the Americas at this early point.
The mammoth was found on the left bank of Yenisey river, not far from Sopochnaya Karga meterological station. Pictures: Vladimir Pitulko, Alexei Tikhonov
The 15-year-old male mammoth died on the eastern bank of the giant Yenisei River in northern Siberia, and its remains were found by a 11-year-old schoolboy in 2012. It is known variously as the Zhenya mammoth, after the boy who found it, and the Sopkarginsky mammoth, deriving from the location where it was found.
Forensic analysis of the remains - which included still-preserved soft tissue - found evidence that the animal, now long extinct, was hunted and killed by early man using primitive weapons and tools made of bone and stone.
Dr Vladimir Pitulko, lead author of the study published in Science, told The Siberian Times: 'Most likely the hunters threw relatively light spears. It is a usual hunting tactic, in particular in elephant hunts, which is still practiced in Africa.
'An elephant is bombarded with a large number of light spears. Then, pierced with such 'needles' like a hedgehog, the animal starts losing blood. Even a light spear can penetrate quite deep and injure the vital organs.
'The mobility of the animal is seriously limited, and then it is soon possible to finish it with a strait blow. I think that the same happened to the Sopkarginsky mammoth.'
Fifth left rib with hunting lesion (up). A butchery mark on the fifth rib (D) was compared with the hunting lesions collected by Vladimir Pitulko at Yana Paleolitic Site (A, B, C). Pictures: Pavel Ivanov, Vladimir Pitulko
He said: 'The most remarkable injury is to the fifth left rib, caused by a slicing blow, inflicted from the front and somewhat from above in a downward direction. Although it was a glancing blow, it was strong enough to go through skin and muscles and damage the bone.
'A similar but less powerful blow also damaged the second right front rib. Such blows were aimed at internal organs and/or blood vessels.
'The mammoth was also hit in the left scapula at least three times. Two of these injuries were imparted by a weapon, which went downwards through the skin and muscles, moving from the top and side. These markings indicate injuries evidently left by relatively light throwing spears.
'A much more powerful blow damaged the spine of the left scapula. It may have been imparted by a thrusting spear, practically straight from the front at the level of the coracoid process. The weapon went through the shoulder skin and muscle, almost completely perforating the spine of the scapula.
'Taking into account the scapula's location in the skeleton and the estimated height of this mammoth, the point of impact would be approximately 1500 mm high, in other words, the height of an adult human's shoulder.'
The injury on the left jugal bone is believed to be 'the final blow' aimed to the base of the trunk. Pictures: Vladimir Pitulko
Another injury - possibly evidence of a mis-directed blow - was spotted on the left jugal bone. The blow was evidently very strong and was suffered by the animal from the left back and from top down, which is only possible if the animal was lying down on the ground.
Dr Pitulko, of the Institute for the History of Material Culture in St Petersburg, believes that it was 'the final blow', which was aimed to the base of the trunk.
Modern elephant hunters still use this method 'to cut major arteries and cause mortal bleeding'. Yet in this case the prehistoric hunters obviously missed and struck the jugal bone instead.
Luckily the spear left the clear trace on the bone, making possible to learn what kind of weapon it was.