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What Can a 45,000-Year-Old Mammoth Carcass Say About Human History?

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Scientists unearthed evidence, in the form of a hunted mammoth, that humans were living remarkably far North in Siberia thousands of years earlier than previously thought. These findings could have implications for human history across the globe.

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Living above the Arctic Circle provides a suite of challenges for humans, particularly during the last Ice Age. They would have struggled to keep warm and gather the necessary resources to survive the severe landscape, or so we thought.

New research suggests anatomically modern humans may have lived remarkably far North in central Siberia as early as 45,000 years ago, a feat that would mean our ancestors were more technologically advanced than we previously believed.

And this finding could have significant implications for the history of human migration, including the peopling of the Americas, according to a new paper published Friday in the journal Science.

Scientists announce this discovery based on clues from a strange source: a dead mammoth. The researcher’s unearthed mammoth bones with distinctive cut marks that suggested this animal fell victim to a band of hunters. Bits of stone, as if broken from a weapon, were even embedded in some of the slices.

“This is well-supported evidence for humans being that far North at 45,000 years ago,” study lead author Vladimir Pitulko tells The Christian Science Monitor in an interview.

This isn’t the first time scientists have discovered evidence that humans lived in Siberia at the time. In 2014, scientists sequenced the genome of a 45,000-year-old man discovered in western Siberia, but he was discovered around the 57 degrees North latitude line. The new find extends that populated region to nearly 72 degrees north.

“That’s a huge difference which gives us a new impression of how people would be spreading across the planet,” Dr. Pitulko says.

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A mammoth discovery of human adaptability

Knowing modern humans were surviving in the challenging environment that is the Arctic so long ago says a lot about their technological capabilities and adaptability, says Ted Goebel, interim head of the department of anthropology at Texas A&M University, who was not affiliated with the study. If they were successfully populating the region, he says, “They were very quick on their feet in terms of developing new technologies and adapting to new environmental conditions that they had never faced before.”

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