Hunting mammoths in the Arctic

… 45,000 ago.

Passed on by Michael Palmer, from PastHorizons: adventures in archeology, “Mammoth injuries indicate humans occupied Arctic earlier than thought” (from the 15th):

The carcass of a frozen mammoth with signs of weapon-inflicted injuries suggests humans were present in the Eurasian Arctic ten millennia earlier than previously thought. These results, which provide perhaps the oldest known story of human survival in the Arctic region, date human presence there to roughly 45,000 years ago, instead of 35,000 years ago, as previously thought.

Sergey Gorbunov excavating the mammoth carcass. Pitulko et al., Science (2016)

Paleolithic records of humans in the Eurasian Arctic are scarce. In 2012, a team led by Alexei Tikhonov excavated a partial carcass of a male woolly mammoth from frozen sediments in a coastal bluff on the eastern shore of Yenisei Bay, in the central Siberian Arctic. Through radiocarbon dating of the animal’s tibia bone and surrounding materials, the researchers dated it at 45,000 years old.

The study is published in Science.

The mammoth’s bones exhibited a number of unusual injuries on the ribs, right tusk and mandible. Tikhonov, Vladimir Pitulko and colleagues analyzed these injuries. They include dents likely from sharp weapon tips such as thrusting spears and damage to the tusk suggestive of human attempts to separate the outside of the tusk by chopping.

These findings leave no doubt, say the study’s authors, that people were present in the central Siberian Arctic by about 45,000 years ago. Advancements in mammoth hunting probably allowed people to survive and spread widely across northernmost Arctic Siberia at this time, the researchers say, representing an important cultural shift – one that likely facilitated the arrival of humans in the area close to the Bering land bridge, providing them an opportunity to enter the New World before the Last Glacial Maximum.

45k years ago is a long time in the past for humans to be settling Arctic lands. Some other landmarks (from Wikipedia) for comparison:

43-45k years ago: Cro-Magnon colonization of Europe

40k years ago: oldest known figurative art; oldest known cave paintings; extinction of Homo neanderthalensis

30-40k years ago: first human settlements in Australia



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