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Scientists discover unique carcass of extinct ‘pygmy’ woolly mammoth on island off Siberian coast

By The Siberian Times reporter
12 August 2018

Experts surmise this first-ever such discovery proves existence of a distinct species of dwarf mammoths, different from stunted beasts that existed ahead of extinction.

It has been preserved in permafrost for between 22,000 and 50,000 years. Picture: Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Sakha

Scientists are calling their new discovery ‘Golden mammoth’ after the colour of its hair as it emerges at low tide from the sea in the Arctic.

The ‘adult’ but mini-sized woolly mammoth was found on Kotelny island in the extreme north of Yakutia - also known as Sakha Republic, the largest region in the Russian Federation.

It is around two metres in height compared with  usual woolly mammoths which stood some five metres tall.

It has been preserved in permafrost for between 22,000 and 50,000 years.

Albert Protopopov

Dr Albert Protopopov at the work on the Kotleny island

The pygmy mammoth with its golden or strawberry blonde locks - will only be excavated next summer, said expert Dr Albert Protopopov. 

‘We are yet to discover whether this is an anomaly, or something quite typical for this area - when a grown up mammoth looks like a pygmy,’ he said. 

'We have had reports about small mammoths found in that particular area, both grown ups and babies.

‘But we had never come across a carcass. 

‘This is our first chance to study it.’


'The mammoth carcass lies in an inaccessible place, and is almost completely buried in the ground at the tidal area.’

His working theory is that this is a distinct species, different from known pygmy-sized mammoths whose bones have appeared on islands as far removed as Wrangel, between the Chukchi and East Siberian seas, and the Channel Islands off California. 

Dr Protopopov believes these bone finds represented a species cut off and in decline in the period before final extinction some 4,000 years ago. 

By contrast, he suspects the ‘Golden mammoth’ stomped the earth earlier, and was not an aberration but an evolutionary adaptation.

He told The Siberian Times: 'I believe that this mammoth is related to the period of the heyday of the species, which was supposed to be in the Karginsky interglacial (time, between 50,000 and 22,000 years ago).


Kotelny island

Kotelny island

Mammoth was found on Kotelny island, which is in the New-Siberian islands archipelago, in the extreme north of Yakutia

‘Our theory is that in this period the mammoths significantly rose in numbers -  and this led to the biggest diversity of their forms.  So we want to check this theory.” 

Only after further research will the results become clear, he said. 

‘As for the (dwarf) mammoths from Wrangel, I think it was the 'island effect’.

’It is a different thing. I think that our new mammoth is not related to the Wrangel mammoth population.

‘This was a different era and different case.’

While Kotelny is also an island, in the Ice Age it was connected to the mainland. 

Kotelny in winter

Kotelny in winter

In winter the sea here is entirely frozen. Pictures by Maxim Arbugaev

The new pygmy carcass  find - pictured here for the first time - ‘lies in an inaccessible place, and is almost completely buried in the ground in a tidal area.’

Dr Protopopov said: 'Its hair looks golden in the sun.’

In winter the sea here is entirely frozen. 

Dr Protopopov is head of the department for the study of mammoth fauna, Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia).

He was quoted as saying: 'We had palaeontologists, archeologists, zoologists, botanists, entomologists and permafrost experts among the members of the expedition to Kotelny island.

Wrangel mammoths

Pigmy mammoths of Wrangel island. Picture Vokrug Sveta

'The island is very rich for such finds. 

‘There are plenty of mammoths and other animals  very well preserved in the island's permafrost.’

Excavation of the 'Golden Mammoth' at the remote island - now the location of one of Russia's major Arctic military bases - will start in summer 2019, and take several weeks. 

Finds of bones of stunted adult mammoths have been made in northern Siberia previously, and, for example, on the Channel Islands in California in the 19th century. 

The species of pygmy mammoths was named Mammuthus exilis.

Comments (4)

Siberia has treasure to studi prehistoric period !... Thanks to share with us .
Jocelyne, FRANCE
17/08/2018 20:39
wonderful find the world is still undiscovered. Siberia is rich hunting
william Lee, lodi calif. usa
14/08/2018 13:10
So neat.I find pieces a tusks and some bones and pieces of bones.But nothing as well preserved as what is found in Russia.
James, Alaska
14/08/2018 00:31
You can even see a tusk still intact and its gold-coloured hair!
Bill, Vilnius
13/08/2018 11:41

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