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12 April 2012
Woolly mammoth carcass may have been cut into by humans

The discovery of a well-preserved juvenile woolly mammoth suggests that ancient humans 'stole' mammoths from hunting lions. Bernard Buigues of the Mammuthus organisation acquired the frozen mammoth from tusk hunters in Siberia. Scientists completed an initial assessment of the animal, known as Yuka, in March this year. Wounds indicate that both lions and humans may have been involved in the ancient animal's death.
     If further investigation by Mr Buigues, Professor Fisher (professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Michigan, USA), and fellow scientists at the Sakha Academy of Sciences in Yakutsk confirms this, it will be the first carcass found in this part of the world to show signs of interaction with ancient humans.
     By analysing the teeth and tusks, the team estimate Yuka was about two and a half years old when it died. Soft tissues such as muscle, skin and internal organs are very rarely found on old carcasses, but much of Yuka's soft tissue as well as its woolly coat has remained intact.
     One of the most striking things about Yuka is its strawberry-blonde hair, he said. The possibility of mammoths having lighter coat colours was proposed in 2006 after scientists studied the genes extracted solely from a mammoth bone.
     Healed scratches found on the skin indicate a lion attack that Yuka survived earlier in its relatively short life, however similar deep cuts that had not healed suggest a subsequent lion attack that either caused or happened very near the time of Yuka's death. Also, when moving one of Yuka's legs, Professor Fisher recognised evidence of a freshly broken leg when it died and suggested this may have occurred as Yuka tried to flee from attackers. The skull, spine, ribs and pelvis were all removed from Yuka's body. The skull and pelvis were found nearby, but most of the spine and ribs are missing.
     Also, there is what Professor Fisher describes as "a bizarre set of damage on the hide". This includes a "long, straight cut that stretches from the head to the centre of the back" as well as "very unusual patterned openings" into the skin and "scalloped margins" on the upper right-hand flank. Each scalloped mark on the skin is made up by 15-30 small, serrations that "could be the saw-like motion of a human tool" and there are "some quite striking cut marks" on the leg bones.
     "We asked the people who found this mammoth multiple times if they had done this. They replied 'No! We did not get our knives out'. Were humans using the lions to catch mammoths and then moving the lions off their kill...?" Supporting this argument, the Dorobo tribe still practise the art of stealing kills from lions in Kenya.

Edited from BBC News (4 April 2012)

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