Woolly mammoth Yuka goes to Moscow: Meet the 39,000-year-old baby

Yuka, a woolly mammoth that perished almost 39,000 years ago, is the subject of a new public display in Moscow. Remains of the young female were discovered in the northern reaches of Yakutia, Russia, on the Barents Sea, providing the specimen with her name.  

Her body reveals evidence that her death may have come about at the hands of early human hunters. If this is true, it would suggest Homo sapiens were occupying the region earlier than most archaeologists previously believed. It would also provide further evidence supporting the idea that our distant ancestors routinely hunted the giant relatives of elephants.

"The known sites of the ancient people in Yakutia are 32,000 years old, and this mammoth is 38,000 years old," Albert Protopopov of the Yakutia Academy of Sciences said.

Woolly mammoths stood around 10 feet tall at the shoulder, and weighed an average of 6.6 tons, roughly the size of an African elephant. Mammuthus primigenius was only one of several species of mammoths, although it is the best known. Another species, Mammuthus sungari, weighed twice as much as M. primigenius.

Humans utilized the bones and tusks of woolly mammoths to create cave art, and to make tools.

Woolly mammoths went extinct roughly 10,000 years ago, due to hunting from humans as well as a warming global environment. Some researchers believe a small population of the animals may have lived on for a short time after this in the far-northern regions of Alaska and Siberia. Ears and tails of the animals were short, in order to reduce heat loss, although tusks could reach 15 feet long.

The genetic code of woolly mammoths has been largely decoded from frozen remains. This data could allow scientists to bring the animal back from extinction. Other species which could now, theoretically, be brought back to life include the dodo bird and passenger pigeons. The genetic code of living beings decays over time, and degradation of the DNA of these ancient animals presents one of the greatest challenges to de-extinction. Yuka could provide some of the missing data needed to create modern-day woolly mammoths.

"Paleontologists consider it to be a young woolly mammoth female aged 6-11 at the moment of death, [which] lived about 39 thousand years ago. Some scientists say that Yuka's remains are among the best preserved of all. Large parts of soft tissue, its wool and even part of the brain remained almost untouched," the Russian Geographical Society reported.

The specimen has already been on display in Japan, Taiwan, and the Russian city of Vladivostok, near the border with China.

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