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Lyuba the Baby Mammoth, Yamal Peninsula, Russia Volume 61 Number 1, January/February 2008
by Eric A. Powell

Baby Mammoth • Russia


The frozen carcass of a baby woolly mammoth discovered in Russia last summer is the most complete example of the species ever discovered. (Daniel Fisher, University of Michigan)

What counts as archaeology? It's a question we're constantly asking ourselves when we decide what stories to cover. Basically, any discovery connected to the human past made by people who call themselves archaeologists is considered fair game. And when paleontologists find the remains of our hominid ancestors, we cover that too.

That rule of thumb left this year's amazing discovery of "Lyuba" out in the cold when we assembled our list. A six-month-old baby mammoth, Lyuba was found last May eroding out of a riverbank in Russia's Yamal Peninsula by Yuri Khudi, a Nenets reindeer herder. Russian paleontologist Alexei Tikhonov and French explorer Bernard Buiges (see "Mammoth Distortions") soon learned of the find, and they quickly organized a scientific study of the remarkably well-preserved specimen, bringing in mammoth expert Daniel Fisher from the University of Michigan, among others.

The most complete mammoth carcass every found, Lyuba (named after Khudi's wife) weighs about 110 pounds and is the size of a large dog. X-rays of her body revealed heartbreaking details, like the fact that she had nascent tusks no larger than a human finger. More discoveries are likely to come in 2008, when the baby mammoth travels to Japan for CT-scanning.

Strictly speaking, Lyuba is a paleontological, not archaeological, discovery. But every piece of information she can tell us about her brief life brings us closer to re-creating her world, a landscape she shared with our Paleolithic ancestors.

More Top Discoveries of 2007

© 2008 by the Archaeological Institute of America