Rather than venture to the Caribbean during spring break to take a break from cold winter weather, Paleontology Prof. Dan Fisher traveled to Yakutsk, Siberia to study Yuka, a unique woolly mammoth specimen.

Fisher and a group of about a dozen other scientists from various universities, including the Russian Academy of Sciences, examined the specimen over a week-long period, which was documented by a film crew as part of an hour-long documentary that premiered in England on Wednesday. An American version is scheduled to air on the Discovery Channel in May.

The animal appears to have been killed by a large predator, most likely a lion, before being butchered by humans, Fisher said, adding that evidence of humans interacting with mammoths existed before, but these new findings help answer questions about the prevalence of those communications. He noted that the distinct cut marks and complex incision patterns in its hides indicate that humans “completely commandeered” the carcass.

“It’s quite clear that humans were very experienced at dealing with carcasses like this (Yuka),” Fisher said.

In order to thoroughly inspect Yuka, the team had to defrost the specimen over a few days to prevent from harming it. Fisher said the scientists did not have access to advanced equipment and were limited to a room, a table and basic measuring devices.

Locals found Yuka in 2010 in the northern part of the Russian state Yakutia, which is known for preserving quality remains in its permafrost. Yuka was approximately 3 years old when it died and would have been around five feet tall at its shoulder. Fisher said it most likely lived between 10,000 and 30,000 years ago.

Fisher said he has plans for future research on the specimen and wants to arrange a CT scan of the specimen so he can better understand the animal without causing it further damage, noting that radioactive carbon dating tests were performed on the specimen to find its exact age, and the results will be available in two weeks. Fisher said a future study of the animal’s teeth and tusks will provide information about the mammoth’s lifestyle.

Fisher said while finding teeth or bones from wooly mammoths is common, finding a well-preserved, mostly complete specimen like Yuka only occurs once every several years.

“You just have to be at the right place and the right time when things are melting out,” Fisher said.

Fisher said Yuka was one of the more interesting projects he has worked on, but couldn’t name a favorite over the course of his career.

“You wouldn’t say, ‘well I have 6 kids, and I really like this one the best,” Fisher said. “(My discoveries) are all part of the whole picture that we are able to put together, and from each one, we are able to learn something new and different.”

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