The “first” mammoth
For a long time, Bernard Buigues thought he was chasing a ghost. The mammoth left many clues of its presence across the tundra, but was never seen. The explorer even believed he lost the trail, until a family of nomadic reindeer breeder from the Dolgan community accepted to lead him to their strange discovery: a pair of three-meter-long tusks emerging from the ice.
The mammoth’s odyssey
Fantasy turned into reality when this mammoth flew 300 kilometres above the Siberian tundra only to land on the tarmac of the Khatanga village. The few people present in the Taimyr Peninsula on that Sunday, the 17th of October 1999, could witness the mammal’s flight, encased in a sarcophagus of frozen soil; a cube weighing twenty-three tons that was dangling in the air while being carried by the world’s most powerful helicopter.
A second life for Jarkov
Once placed in the Mammuthus storage cave dug under the Khatanga village, one thing became obvious: the discovery and its implications for science was a deed far beyond remarkable. The Jarkov mammoth, more than 20 000 years old and a rare witness of its species’ evolution, was available to scientific research. The cold chain hadn’t been disrupted during the excavation or the journey. It lay in Khatanga preserved in its initial state of conservation.
More than a mammoth.
Tusks, molars, skeleton, fur, skin and DNA were then meticulously analysed in various tests and largely contributed to enriching our scientific knowledge. But Jarkov’s heritage wasn’t only contained in its anatomy; the frozen bloc of mud in which its remains were imprisoned constituted an uncontaminated sample of the mammoth’s direct habitat. Pollens, traces of plants and parasites, that “skin-tight” environment could be studied live. There lies the major interest of that discovery.
The Jarkov Mammoth died as a healthy 47 year-old male, presumably by getting trapped in a swamp where it had ventured. By salvaging and drawing scientific interest on its discovery, the explorers revived an interest for the paleontological exploration of Siberia. The Jarkov expedition fuelled the research dynamics that still powers the Mammuthus team today.