Remains of a young woolly mammoth were recently found preserved in ice along Siberia's Arctic Ocean shore.
The juvenile mammoth, nicknamed Yuka, was discovered by an expedition crew funded by the BBC and the Discovery Channel, and is at least 10,000 years old.
The mammoth carcass is of particular interest because it shows signs of having been cut open by ancient humans. If confirmed, this would be the first mammoth carcass that provides evidence of human interaction in the region, Discover News reported.
The carcass is in extraordinarily well preserved. Its flesh is still pink and it has retained its woolly coat.
This is the first relatively complete mammoth carcass -- that is, a body with soft tissues preserved -- to show evidence of human association, Daniel Fisher, curator and director of the University of Michigan's Museum of Paleontology, told Discovery News.
Researchers have placed the mammoth's age at two and-a-half years old when it died.
Fisher explained how the animal might have met its end:
It appears that Yuka was pursued by one or more lions or another large field, judging from deep, unhealed scratches in the hide and bite marks on the tail, Fisher told Discovery News. Yuka then apparently fell, breaking one of the lower hind legs. At this point, humans may have moved in to control the carcass, butchering much of the animal and removing parts that they would use immediately.
They may, in fact, have reburied the rest of the carcass to keep it in reserve for possible later use. What remains now would then be 'leftovers' that were never retrieved.
According to Fisher, the animal's organs, vertebrae, ribs, surrounding muscles, and flesh from upper portions of the legs were removed. The legs' lower parts and trunk were left intact.
Most permafrost-preserved mammoth specimens consist solely of bones or bone fragments that currently provide little new insight into the species' biology in life, even if DNA can be extracted and sequenced from these samples, Kevin Campbell, Associate Professor
Environmental and Evolutionary Physiology at the University of Manitoba, told Discovery News after examining the carcass.
This extremely rare finding of a near complete specimen, like the discovery of the baby mammoth Lyuba in 2007, will be a boon to researchers as it will help them link observed phenotypes (morphological features that we can see) with genotype (DNA sequences).