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A Mammoth Find

on October 24, 2009
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Did the Baby Mammoth, Lyuba, Suffocate in a Dust Storm? In a special guest news analysis, creationist (and mammoth expert) Michael Oard considers the well-preserved mammoth “Lyuba” (whom we first discussed in A Mammoth Discovery). The occasion? Lyuba’s worldwide debut.

The baby woolly mammoth named Lyuba will be leaving Siberia for a ten-city world tour with its first stop at the Field Museum in Chicago. Lyuba is a female calf probably about one month old, although it was earlier thought to be anywhere from three to six months old. The carcass of Lyuba was discovered almost perfectly preserved in May 2007 on a sandbar of the Yuribey River, Yamal Peninsula, Siberia, by a reindeer breeder and hunter. It was only missing its hair and toenails, but is considered the best preserved of any animal. The calf was named Lyuba after the breeder’s wife. It weighed 110 pounds (50 kg) and was about the size of a large dog.

It was only missing its hair and toenails, but is considered the best preserved of any animal.

It is an extremely rare find, since the reindeer breeder had seen many mammoth tusks in his travels but never a carcass, especially one so well preserved. Carcasses, consisting of a whole body or even a scrap of flesh, are indeed rare—numbering less than a hundred.

Lyuba was dated at 40,000 years old by carbon-14 within the uniformitarian timescale. Assuming there is no contamination, using the disequilibrium method of carbon-14 dating, and bringing the Flood back into earth history, this mammoth lived during the post-Flood Ice Age (over 4,000 years ago). The animal appeared healthy with its mother’s milk still in its stomach. The mammoth also had a curious dent in her face above the trunk. Scientists also discovered that the hump on the back of its neck acted for fat storage that would help maintain body temperature during cold weather. Using computer tomography scans, scientists discovered that opaque blobs of blue vivianite were in its soft tissues, some muscles were detached from the bones, and some bones were distorted. Vivianite is a type of iron phosphate, the phosphate possibly leached from its bones. The scientists speculate on the meaning of these observations, but it is unsure if they have interpreted them correctly.

The carcass was earlier sent to Japan in 2007 to extract intact DNA. Scientists plan to map the DNA. A long-range goal is to clone a mammoth by inserting a woolly mammoth cell into the womb of an Asian elephant, the closest morphologically to the woolly mammoth. Apparently, this technology is still a long way off.

Perhaps the most curious observation of Lyuba is that its trunk, mouth, throat, and windpipe were filled with dense sediment. The sediment has been variously described as silt, mud, and clay and sand. This material suggests that Lyuba suffocated in mud near a river to Dan Fisher and water to Naoki Suzuki.

Another curious problem is that Lyuba was found in May before the June ice off. So, the animal likely was eroded out the previous year and lay exposed through the summer of 2006. The question of why it did not decay and why scavengers did not destroy it is a mystery. The scientists assume that it was eroded out of a high, sheer bluff of permafrost that was steadily being undercut by the river. Fisher suggests that the clay in the mammoth “pickled” it to preserve it over the summer of 2006, but this does not seem logical to me.

I have another hypothesis. The high bluffs of this river are very likely loess, which is mostly wind-blown silt but also can include some clay and sand. So, the calf breathed in loess during an end Ice Age dust storm and suffocated, the cause of death for three other mammoths and two woolly rhinos.


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