Editor of Science
May 29, 2014 - 6:45pm
It’s known as the mammoth cemetery for good reason. Along the banks of a Siberian river not far from the Arctic Ocean lie thousands of bones, most of them belonging to the giant, shaggy relatives of today’s elephants. A new study argues that such mysterious graveyards were not the results of a natural catastrophe, but rather the work of early human hunters—who may have had help from some of the world’s first dogs.
“This is the first time that someone’s gone out on a limb and suggested something different than what we thought before,” says Angela Perri, a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and an expert on dog domestication. “But it’s still very speculative at this stage.”
Study author Pat Shipman first became interested in what she calls “mammoth megasites” in 2009. About 30 such spots have been unearthed in central Europe and North Asia, some with tens of thousands of bones packed tightly on top of each other across areas as small as 60 square meters. The massive tusks and femurs of mammoths jut out among the remains of wild horses, deer, foxes, and other animals. “They’re crazy sites,” says Shipman, an anthropologist at Pennsylvania State University, University Park. “The sheer number of dead mammoths is astounding.” More than 160 of the tusked goliaths lie in the mammoth cemetery—a site known as Berelekh—alone.