Related Articles Frozen Woolly Mammoth Inspires Cloning Project (Oct. 5,
1999) Intact Mammoth to Be Carved From Siberian Tundra (July 23, 1999)
WASHINGTON -- Scientists said Wednesday they had dug a woolly mammoth
the Siberian permafrost and transported it, virtually intact and still
frozen, to a laboratory for study.
They used a radar imaging technique to "see" the mammoth in its icy
then excavated a huge block of frozen dirt around it to preserve the
"It is the first time that a mammoth carcass from the permafrost of
has been excavated under such cold conditions," Dick Mol of the Museum of
Natural History in Rotterdam, who has written several books on mammoths,
told reporters in a telephone briefing.
Samples have been sent to a laboratory for possible attempts to clone the
animal, and scientists will study the carcass to try to find out why and
how it died.
Mol said he was thrilled by the discovery. "When you find the remains of
the animal and you can touch them and even you can smell them when you
a hair dryer to melt the permafrost," he said.
The paleontologists, led by North Pole and Siberian explorer Bernard
Buigues, were directed to the site by local residents who found a tusk
sticking up out of the ground.
They dug up the head, which had partially thawed and decayed, and decided
to stop digging for fear of destroying their find.
They brought in ground-penetrating radar. "It is a system that gave an
anomaly other than ice and soil. From this anomaly, it was interpreted
there was the body of the animal in the permafrost and the ice," Larry
Agenbroad, a mammoth expert at Northern Arizona University, said.
Jackhammers Cracked Open Frozen Grave
They used jackhammers to break up the frozen soil, which was as hard as
concrete. They dug a trench around the mammoth and then tunneled
before breaking it free.
On a rare sunny day last Sunday, a helicopter lifted the 22-ton block of
frozen dirt and flew it 200 miles to the Russian city of Khatanga.
In Khatanga it has been put into an ice cellar, which has a constant
temperature of -12 or -13 degrees C (-8 or -9 F).
"In April we will return to Khatanga," Mol said. They will use a rack of
hair dryers to thaw out the block, layer by layer, and examine every
of plant matter and animals remains they can find in the soil surrounding
"We hope of course to find the internal parts of the ... mammoth," Mol
Discovery Channel, which funded and filmed the expedition, released
videotape showing the helicopter carrying the huge block. The mammoth's
tusks curved out of one side of the block, and its thick hair matted the
Buigues confessed that he had taken a bit of dramatic license in sticking
the tusks into the side of the block.
"For me this mammoth is a star," he said in a telephone interview from
Paris. "I had to take care of him like a star. To travel from (the) place
where he slept for more than 20,000 years without his tusks was a pity. I
wanted to give him a second life."
Alexei Tikhonov of the Zoological Institute in Russia's second city of
Petersburg had earlier stressed that the mammoth carcass was not
But he and Buigues said the science behind the expedition was more
"I will be proud if we have only 85 or 90 percent of the mammoth,"
The mammoth, dubbed "Zharkov" after a local man who first discovered its
tusk sticking out of the ice in 1997, was a nine-foot tall adult male
would have looked like a hairy elephant to the modern eye.
Carbon dating of bits taken from the mammoth at the site show it is
years old. Other tests show it died at the prime of its life, aged about
years, Mol said.
Pieces will be sent off to other laboratories for testing.
"I have been approached by a lab in the United States that has a track
record with cryogenetics," Agenbroad said, referring to the science of
using frozen genetic material. "They have done cloning. They know the
procedure, have experimented with elephants and have elephants
If they can get an intact cell nucleus, they may try to clone the mammoth
using an elephant egg and an elephant as a surrogate mother. Or they
use frozen sperm, if they can get any, to try to create an
The excavation also offers good opportunities to paleontologists trying
understand what Siberia looked like 20,000 years ago.
Mol said they have found bits of well-preserved plants that suggest the
mammoth died on or near a pond. "It still had its original green color,"
Mol said. "This is, for paleontology, a big discovery."