Reindeer herders in northern Siberia have discovered the skeleton of a woolly mammoth whose ligaments remain intact at least 10,000 years after its death, reports the Associated Press.
Scientists pulled parts of the mammoth’s skull, ribs and foot—some still held together by soft tissue—from the muck of Pechevalavato Lake in the Yamalo-Nenets district of Russia on July 23, according to Reuters. The team is currently searching the site in hopes of uncovering more of the region’s extinct fauna.
Based on initial findings, “the whole skeleton is there,” Dmitry Frolov, director of the Arctic Research Centre, tells the Siberian Times’ Anna Liesowska, who was the first to report on the discovery. “Judging by the pictures this was a young mammoth, but we’ll have to wait for tests to give the exact age.”
The mammoth—documented in Siberian Times photographs of a foot’s well-preserved soft tissue, as well as enormous bones strewn on the lake’s shores—is the latest prehistoric creature to emerge from the region’s rapidly thawing permafrost after spending millennia locked in frozen soil. In recent years, researchers have identified a 42,000-year-old foal with no signs of external damage, a 32,000-year-old wolf head and an extinct cave lion cub, among other stunningly well-preserved finds.
Last month, a historic heatwave struck Siberia with temperatures of up to 18 degrees Fahrenheit above average, according to the World Meteorological Organization. The region has experienced wild temperature swings before—from 90 below zero in winter to 90 degrees Fahrenheit in summer—and thanks to human-driven climate change, blistering heat waves are becoming increasingly likely.
Rising temperatures and melting permafrost have even spawned an illicit industry: bone hunting. As Andrew Roth reported for the Guardian in 2019, hunters and prospectors have been digging and even diving for ancient ivory tusks loosened from the permafrost’s grip, creating a market worth an estimated $50 million each year.
Mammoths went extinct some 10,000 years ago, per the AP, but scientists suspect that small groups in Alaska and Wrangel Island (off the coast of Siberia) may have persisted for slightly longer. This means the newly discovered remains are at least 10,000 years old. Researchers have previously found mammoth fossils dated to around 30,000 years ago, according to Reuters.
Yevgeniya Khozyainova, a paleontologist at the Shemanovsky Institute in Salekhard, tells Reuters that the team hopes to find more of the mammoth’s skeleton.
“Whenever there is soft tissue left behind, it is valuable material to study,” she explains.
Even if the rest of the animal’s skeleton is hidden nearby, researchers say it will take significant time and special equipment to recover, reports the AP.
In a television interview quoted by the news agency, Khozyainova notes that complete mammoth skeletons are rare. Still, she adds, such a find could deepen scientists’ understanding of these ancient beasts.