Cuts and scrapes on the mammoth’s bones came from human hunting weapons. And dating of the bones puts humans well north of the Arctic Circle 45,000 years ago, scientists report in the Jan. 15 Science. Researchers had assumed that humans didn’t reach the Arctic until between 30,000 and 35,000 years ago.
The find shows that humans worked out how to cope with the Arctic’s extreme cold and sunless winters much earlier than experts thought, says Robin Dennell, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Sheffield in England who wasn’t involved in the work.
At 66.32° N latitude, the Arctic Circle skims the top of Canada and Russia.
The team pulled the mammoth, a 15-year-old male, from a frozen coastal bluff in the central Siberian Arctic. Carbon dating of the surrounding sediment and of a leg bone pinned the mammoth’s age at 45,000 years old.
Marks on one of the animal’s tusks and slices on many of its bones were similar to patterns on mammoth bones from a younger Siberian archaeological site where humans hunted mammoths, the researchers found. Human weapons such as spears probably caused the damage that killed the mammoth.
Humans entering the Arctic by 45,000 years ago is “a mighty, impressive achievement,” Dennell says. “What we don't know is whether this was a successful long-term adaptation or a short-lived heroic failure.”