Humans were in the Arctic at least 45,000 years ago, according to a new study that describes a brutal man versus mammoth event from that time.
The discovery, reported in the journal Science, extends the earliest presence of humans in the Arctic by 10,000 years. It also opens up the possibility that humans entered North America much earlier than previously thought, given that they were close to the Bering land bridge entry point.
At the center of it all were wooly mammoths, which hunters chased to the literal ends of the earth.
"Mammoth tusks were the main target for them, providing raw materials to produce long points and full-size spears, becoming a substitute for wood that equipped spears with shafts," lead author Vladimir Pitulko of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute for the History of Material Culture told Discovery News.
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He added, "This is especially important for questions related to the peopling of the New World, because now we know that eastern Siberia up to its Arctic limits was populated starting at roughly 50,000 years ago."
Pitulko and his colleagues analyzed the frozen remains of a dead mammoth found in the central Siberian Arctic at what is now Yenisei Bay. The mammoth was a 15-year-old male in good physical condition before human hunters at close range killed him, the researchers believe.
At first it appears that the hunters threw spears at the mammoth, hitting his shoulders and going through muscle tissue. Other injuries reveal that the hunters missed their desired wound points several times while frantically stabbing the beast at closer range. Their goal was to cut major arteries to cause mortal bleeding, the scientists suspect. Glancing blows inflicted by the hunters bashed the mammoth's left and right ribs, suggesting that the men were also trying to damage the large animal's internal organs.
After multiple stabs with weapons that were ironically likely made of mammoth tusks, the hunters finally succeeding in killing their prey. They butchered the beast, including removing the tongue. It was probably eaten on site as a ritual food or delicacy.
A mammoth was one-stop shopping for humans then.
"It was a source of food, but also of fuel (dung, fat, bones) and raw materials for constructing tools," Pitulko explained.