A Nenets boy tentatively examines Lyuba outside Shemanovsky Museum in Salekhard, Siberia. Some of his elders still hold to the Nenets tradition that touching a mammoth, a creature they believe roams the spirit underworld, will bring bad luck.
Will Woolly Mammoths walk the Earth again?
View the recent autopsy of a baby mammoth named Lyuba, a month old baby mammoth that died 40,000 years ago. Scientists were astonished to find perfectly preserved fecal matter and her mother’s milk in Lyuba’s intestine.
This is the first time in history that researchers have found a perfect mammoth specimen, so perfect, in fact, that scientists may be considering cloning the large extinct elephant by cloning a frozen cell and placing it inside the uterus of an elephant. Photos Francis Latreille
Missing only toenails, part of her tail and right ear, and most of her hair, the new discovery is the most complete mammoth ever found.
In life Lyuba was covered with hair, but only traces of her undercoat remained. Layers of coarse hairs would have protected this woolly insulation, forming a dense coat that could combat minus 20°F temperatures.
As she aged she would have developed cracks in her soles to provide traction in snow, while fleshy pads behind her toes would have cushioned her steps—a vital trait had she reached an adult weight of six tons.
Discovered by reindeer herders and turned over to scientists, the ancient carcass began to thaw during an exam inside Shemanovsky Museum in Salekhard, Siberia. Members of the recovery team, Kirill Serotetto (at left) and Bernard Buigues, moved it outside to refreeze.
For the mammoth's journey from Siberia to Japan, scientists vacuum-sealed the carcass in a plastic bag and shipped it in a refrigerated container. Members of the scientific team unpack Lyuba at Jikei University's medical school in Tokyo and prepare her for CT scanning.
The CT scan provided detailed new insights into a mammoth's anatomy as well as important clues to Lyuba's death. Sediment found blocking the trunk's nasal passages (shown in white) and in the mouth, esophagus, and windpipe suggests that she asphyxiated by inhaling mud after becoming trapped in a mire.
During an autopsy Dan Fisher extracts fecal matter from Lyuba's intestine. The feces probably came from Lyuba's mother, fed to the calf to aid growth of bacteria needed to digest vegetation. The mother's feces will help identify plants she ate and may yield her DNA.
Like tiny time capsules, Lyuba's teeth hold a detailed diary of her brief life. Oxygen isotopes in the dentin of her third premolar and other teeth reveal she was born in spring.