Frozen in time for 40,000 years
By Tim Walker, producer Ice Age Giants
Episode 2 – Land of the cave bear
Yakutsk in Siberia is the coldest city on earth. In winter it is rarely warmer than minus 40. Here’s a good pub fact for you: minus 40 is the only temperature that’s the same on both the Celsius and Fahrenheit scales! Thanks to this unforgiving Siberian cold we got to meet a perfectly preserved 40,000-year-old female woolly rhino.
Woolly rhinos were about the same size as modern African rhinos but with a thick, long shaggy coat of hair. They were a true Eurasian ice age heavyweight and ranged from the UK in the west to the east coast of Siberia.
Discovered frozen solid in a mine just outside Yakutsk, she is stored under constant conditions in a freezer at the city’s museum. She looks as though she died only yesterday. Her skin is flawless but most of her hair dropped out when she was first frozen. Many of her internal organs were perfectly preserved, and we were able to film her in great detail.
But to be honest getting the shots of a 40,000-year-old prehistoric behemoth was the easiest part of the trip! The real challenge was trying to film the exterior shots of the town in such freezing conditions.
Cameras and electrical equipment do not like the cold. Batteries drain quickly which can offer up an interesting cut point in the middle of a take! And wire cables, the sort that connect camera parts together, become brittle and easily break.
The human body also does weird things as temperatures drop! Trying to film Alice walking through the city centre turned from a quick 5 minute set-up to over an hour. All in all it was an interesting but taxing task.