Science & Environment

Baby mammoth goes on display in UK

Lyuba Image copyright AFP

A perfectly preserved baby mammoth which died 42,000 years ago has been unveiled at the Natural History Museum in London.

Named Lyuba by the Siberian deer herder who discovered her in 2007, the specimen is 130cm tall and weighs 50kg.

Palaeontologist Prof Adrian Lister described seeing her for the first time as an "incredible experience".

Transported in a box that was opened on Monday, the juvenile female mammoth looked almost intact.

Prof Lister pointed out the small milk tusks that are barely visible, the almost flattened shape of the trunk designed to drink water from snow and a small layer of fat on top of the head which would have kept her warm in the permafrost of north-west Siberia.

Lyuba was found to have clay in her trunk, leading scientists to believe she suffocated on it while getting water. She is believed to have been discovered after her snowy grave thawed out during the spring and her remains washed up on a river bank.

The animal looked more like her distant elephant family relatives with wrinkled, leathery skin, as the hair which would have covered her warmly in life had eroded away, leaving just a few tufts.

Her only defect was the tail which has been gnawed off by animals.

Her body looks slightly deflated, which Prof Lister explains is from her effectively being mummified under the weight of all that ice for so long. Traces of the blue, powdery mineral vivianite, which is commonly found on fossils, can be seen on her body.

Image copyright International Mammoth Committee
Image caption The 42,000-year old carcass was discovered by a reindeer herder

Professor Lister said: "To see a three-dimensional mammoth in the flesh is absolutely extraordinary.

"To be eyeball to eyeball with a creature from the Ice Age which is so perfectly preserved and lifelike, looking like she is lying down and might walk away at any minute, is really moving. I have to pinch myself to think she died 42,000 years ago.

"It's wonderful to be able to share this with the public at the museum when she's never been outside of Russia and Asia before. It's really exciting and I'm sure others will be moved by seeing her."

Lyuba was named after the deer herder Yuri Khudi's wife (the name also means love in Russian). She was discovered by the Yuribei River, in the Yamal-Nenets district. Even her internal organs are intact.

Scientists regard the specimen as the most fully preserved mammoth ever found.

Mammoths first appeared in the Pliocene Epoch, some 4.8 million years ago. Climate change, overkill by human hunters, or a combination of both are among the explanations for their eventual disappearance about 5,000 years ago.

Lyuba, normally on display at the Yamal-Nenets Regional Museum-Exhibition Complex, will be on show at the Natural History Museum from Friday 23 May until 7 September.

Mammoths: Ice Age Giants runs from 23 May - 7 September at the Natural History Museum

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