This is the clearest evidence that our ancestors speared and killed the extinct giant.
'How did the weapon enter the body of the animal going through thick skin and flesh, and hit the bone?'. Picture: Kate Baklitskaya, Go East
These unique photographs seen by the world for the first time show the wounded vertebrae of the woolly mammoth found in Siberia. Forensic evidence proves the hole was made by a spear or javelin, meaning the huge creature was slain by ancient man some 13,470 years ago.
It does not answer the conundrum that still puzzles scientists: why did the mammoths vanish from the face of the planet? Man's butchery may have been a factor, but can it really be the only one? Our exclusive pictures from Khanty-Mansiysk show the remains of a mammoth located a dozen years ago close to the confluence of the rivers Ob and Irtysh in the west of Siberia.
The images show the thoracic vertebrae of a mammoth, which in all probability was marooned in a clay swamp when the hunters went in for the kill.
It is believed the weapon was thrown with great force at the creature. The vertebrae is pierced by a cone-shaped hole resulting from the penetration of a notched point, and there are fragments of quartzite flakes lodged inside, according to Russian scientists.
Pictures of the find until now have not been seen outside Russia or the scientific community.
The depth of the spear hole is 23.5 mm and the width is between 7-10mm. Pictures: Kate Baklitskaya, Go East
The discovery was made at the Lugovskoe 'mammoth graveyard' by scientists Alexander Pavlov and Eugeny Mashchenko in a swampy area where thousands of bones of mammals - mainly mammoths - have been unearthed by scientists since the 1990s. It remains unclear to what extent our ancestors ate the woolly mammoth when other, perhaps more succulent, food sources were available. Yet a related discovery last year in Lugovskoe was the remains of a 13,270 year old fireplace belonging to early men in this region.
The current theory is that mammoth bone was burned with charcoal, the fat from the bone giving a superior heat. Anton Rezvy, 39, head of the palaeontological department of the Khanty-Mansiysk Museum of Nature and Man, explained: 'The vertebra was found in Lugovskoe mammoth cemetery.'
The museum now holds the holed vertebrae.
'This cemetery was not some place where mammoths were coming to die. It was just a natural place with a lot of blue clay which is rich with salt, and the scientists believe that the mammoths came there for the salt that contained in the clay, and that many of them got struck there.
'At Lugovskoe we found several thousand bones and we also studied the place using ground penetrating radar to define how much is left. We believe that there are still dozens of thousands of mammoth bones buried here. The vertebrae that our museum expedition found in autumn 2002 has a hole in it, and you can see the it was hit by a manmade made weapon. If you look closely inside the hole, you can see the piece of a stone flake. Such stone flakes were used by people of the Paleolithic Age to make weapons'.
Lugovskoe mammoth graveyard, the remains of northern steppe elephant, a forebear of the mammoth, and a sreet view of Khanty-Mansiysk museum of Nature and Man. Pictures: Kate Baklitskaya, Go East
The depth of the spear hole is 23.5 mm and the width is between 7-10mm. 'Ancient man probably used a spear or dart,' Anton said. 'Many people ask how did the weapon enter the body of the animal going through thick skin and flesh, and hit the bone'.
He is convinced that the animal was alive, not dead, when it was forcibly struck by the weapon. 'There is much proof that ancient man used the mammoth for food, for example, there are traces of mammoth found on an ancient knife. But the direct proof, like this, that man was actually hunting the mammoth can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
'There is a dispute about how much humans influenced the extinction of the mammoth. Were mammoths actually hunted down by humans, or did the the animals become extinct because of cold? Some scientists use our find to prove the theory that man was the main reason for the mammoth's extinction.
'But it is hard to make such an assumption is this particular case, because we have to take into consideration that the mammoth remains were found in a muddy area where many of them were getting stuck. So even if the humans were hunting them here, it was more killing animals that were already stuck in the mud and had no way to escape'.
'The vertebrae that our museum expedition found in autumn 2002 has a hole in it, and you can see the it was hit by a manmade made weapon. If you look closely inside the hole, you can see the piece of a stone flake'. Picture: Kate Baklitskaya, Go East
Anton doesn't rule out that elsewhere humans may have been more of a factor but says that 'in Russia most scientists believe that it was the climate conditions that was the greatest influence. 'At the same time in eastern Europe there are ancient human camp sites found with a lot of mammoth bones around it. The scientists dispute how they got there. Were ancient man hunting the mammoth actively or just collecting the mammoth bones and using them?
'I personally think that both humans and the climate could have influenced the mammoth's fate, but still we do not have enough proof to be sure humans were hunting the mammoth all that much', Anton said.
He is intrigued by the discovery of a mammoth bone-burning fire, which he has reconstructed in his impressive museum.
'The 'coals' are not only wooden, but also comprise mammoth bone. So we can make a conclusion that the ancient people used mammoth bone to keep themselves warm as it contained fat, and the fire would last longer.
'We made a reconstruction of the fire place, of how it looked long ago when people used to sit around it, do some manual work or eat and throw mammoth bones into the fire, mixing them with charcoal. The white coal you see is actually bone'.
'We made a reconstruction of the fire place, of how it looked long ago when people used to sit around it, do some manual work or eat and throw mammoth bones into the fire, mixing them with charcoal. The white coal you see is actually bone'. Below, Anton Rezvy, head of the palaeontological department of the Khanty-Mansiysk Museum of Nature and Man. Pictures: Kate Baklitskaya, Go East
The museum also has remains of northern steppe elephant, a forebear of the mammoth, which lived between 500,000 and 700,000 years ago, and is believed to have evolved in Siberia during the early Pleistocene epoch.
'It was found near Irtysh River close to the town of Gornopravdinsk, Khanty-Mansiysk region, which is around 120km from Khanty-Mansiysk,' said Mr Rezvy.
'It is unique because it is the most northern find of a full skeleton of this elephant, which proves that these animals lived here. There are not many of them found in the world. These elephants mostly lived in Eurasia, and now we can say that they lived in the northern territory of the continent as well.
'Perhaps this is not the most impressive characteristic, but this is also the smallest of the steppe mammoth that were found.
'Even though it's an elephant it's only 3.5 metres tall which was a normal size for a woolly mammoth as well. The steppe elephants in general were around 5 metres tall. Yet it is not a baby. This is a grown up male aged around 35 years old.
'It is quite rare when a skeleton is found like this, a full skeleton. Such discoveries can be counted in dozens around the world'.
The reconstruction of the tip of the spear - or the dart - that hit the vertebrae, courtesy Khanty-Mansiysk museum of Nature and Man:
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