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Researchers Successfully Retraced The Steps Of A Female Woolly Mammoth Nicknamed “Elma” Using An Analysis Of A 14,000-Year-Old Tusk

Akkharat J. - stock.adobe.com - illustrative purposes only

Based on an analysis of a 14,000-year-old tusk, scientists have been able to retrace the steps of a female woolly mammoth and piece together her life from birth to death. The mammoth was named Elmayuujey’eh, or Elma for short.

Her name translates to “hella lookin” in the aboriginal Kaska language. Elma’s story has helped researchers learn more about the interactions between mammoths and early human populations in the Americas.

Elma was born around the end of the last ice age in what is now the Canadian province of the Yukon, where she stayed for the first decade of her life. Her tusk was found at Swan Point, one of the oldest archaeological sites in the Americas.

The analysis of the tusk indicated that she had left her birthplace and traveled across the vast frozen landscape all the way to Alaska. The journey took her just under three years, and during this span of time, she covered about 620 miles.

“That’s a huge amount of movement for a single mammoth,” pointed out Hendrik Poinar, a professor of anthropology at McMaster University in Canada and one of the study’s authors. According to Poinar, Elma’s long trek ended in Alaska. It was there that she was killed by hunter-gatherers at the age of 20.

The bones of a juvenile and newborn woolly mammoth were also unearthed at Swan Point. Elma’s remains suggest that she was closely related to the two mammoths. It is believed that they belonged to one of the two herds that occupied the area near Swan Point.

To investigate the details of Elma’s life, a team of researchers conducted an isotopic study by cutting her tusk in half lengthwise and examining the growth pattern of the thin layers of ivory within the tusk.

Mammoth tusks grow in layers, forming rings that are not dissimilar to the ones found in tree trunks. The layers of ivory capture a timeline of the mammoth’s life and effectively preserve isotopes from the environment the mammoth lived in.

They contain valuable information about the mammoth’s diet, migration, and past environmental conditions, enabling the team to retrace Elma’s steps. They also studied ancient DNA in her tusk and compared it to the remains of eight other woolly mammoths found around Swan Point.

Akkharat J. – stock.adobe.com – illustrative purposes only

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