Sergey Gorbunov excavating the mammoth carcass. (Pitulko et al., Science (2016))

A mummified mammoth found in the Siberian Arctic has injuries consistent with human hunting – even though the mammoth died 10,000 years before humans were thought to have reached the Arctic. A study on the hunted carcass, published Thursday in Science, pushes human occupation of the Arctic back to at least 45,000 years ago.

The mammoth, which was discovered by a young boy on vacation in 2012, was so well preserved in its frozen tomb that scientists were able to examine some of its soft tissues. The researchers found injuries that they believe could only have been inflicted with stone or ivory-tipped spears. Wounds around the ribs, face, and shoulders suggest both hand-held and thrown spears, and damage to the tusk indicates that humans may have used tools to strip some of its ivory away.

“One can almost see the blow-by-blow battle between people and mammoth fought on those frozen plains,” Curtis Marean, a paleoanthropologist at Arizona State University who was not involved with the study, told Science Magazine. “The impact wounds on the bones with embedded stone fragments is conclusive evidence that people slayed this mammoth.”

For hunter gatherers in the Arctic, mammoths would have been a major food staple. Indeed, the previous evidence of the oldest humans in the area included butchered mammoth remains as well.

"Indeed, these animals provide an endless source of different goods: food with meat, fat and marrow; fuel with dung, fat and bones; and raw material with long bones and ivory," lead author Vladimir Pitulko of the Russian Academy of Sciences told Reuters. "They certainly would use them as food, especially certain parts like tongue or liver as a delicacy, but hunting for the ivory was more important."

The migration of humans through northern Siberia brought them closer to the area that was once the Bering Land Bridge, facilitating our species' spread into the Americas.

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