Libmonster ID: RU-14960
Author(s) of the publication: Yu. BURLAKOV

byYuri BURLAKOV, Vice-President of the Association of Polar Explorers; Alexander SMIRNOV, Dr. Sc. (Geol. & Mineral.), senior research fellow of the All-Russia Scientific-Research Institute "Okeangeologiya" (St. Petersburg)

Due to permafrost, underground burials of mammoths exist up to the present time. The geography of such findings covers the greater part of the areas of Russian polar region from Kola Peninsula to Chukotka. Meanwhile, the extraction of tusks started long before the beginning of systematic studies in the 18th century: fossil analogues of ivory were traditionally used in bone-carving trade.

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Such findings are most frequent in northern regions of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia). According to recent data mammoth's tusks of later type (Mammuthus primigenius) are found in enormous quantities on the isle of Bolshoi Begichev in Khatanga - Lena interfluve, in Nordwick Bay and on the Laptev Sea coast-from the mouth of Peschanaya river to Olenek Bay. But most unique paleontological discoveries were made in the Lena - Kolyma interfluve, more specifically, on the eastern coast of Bykovsky Peninsula. There in 1799 the corpse of "Adams' Mammoth" was found, in 2002-the body of "Yukagirsky Mammoth" (in Buor-Khai Bay), great segregation of bones were also found on Oiyagossky and Khaptashinsky gills along the Dmitri Laptev Strait.

Closer to the Lena estuary the remains are found in relic loessial-glacial formations of the upper Pleistocene (150 - 10000 years ago) - the so-called edomas. Edoma formation developed within the littoral lowland area of Northern Yakutia and on Novosibirsk islands, whereas on the flooded shelf it is traced in fragments. It was formed in the continental conditions, when the region was dominated by arctic steppes with rich fauna: mammoths, rhinoceroses, bisons, oxen, horses, reindeer, saigas, cave lions and hyenas. In the period of mass extinction of animals, a specific horizon appeared within the formation, which was named the "mammoth horizon" by geologists. While it was affected by exogenic processes, there appeared secondary placers of tusks in alluvial, solifluction, eluvial and coastal-sea deposits. They embrace burial places, located eastward of the Khatanga Bay. Well-known in Yakutia is the Berelekh mammoth burial ground on the left bank of the Indigirka River, where the remains of more than 160 species of the age of about 12000 years were found in the horizon of only 2 m thick, mostly these remains are redeposited.

Taimyr Peninsula is a territory, which ranks second after Yakutia by the quantity of such finds. Apart from bones, there are often found soft tissues, whose age reaches 10 - 53000 years. Since Byrrang mountains were exposed to glaciation, the ancient giants were mostly found in the

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south - in the valley of Khatanga river up to Putoran plateau (there were found Zharkov's mammoths*, as well as "Fishing hook" and "Taimyr" mammoths), and in the north - on the territory of the present sea shelf. On the Northern Land archipelago only single fragments of tusks were found (11,5 - 25,000 years old).

On the territory of Kola Peninsula two or three similar finds were registered (100 - 80,000 years old). As during the glacial period the entire Fennoscandia was covered with glaciers, large-sized animals could not find feed there.

Eastward, in the Arkhangelsk Region and Nenets Autonomous Area, the remnants of mammoths are concentrated in river valleys, and the nearer to the Urals, the more frequently. Most significant segregations are found on the Kara river. However, on Spitsbergen, Franz Josef Land and New Land archipelagos, such discoveries have not been registered, and this is quite explicable: in the sections of Pleistocene deposits of these places sea and glacier layers alternate-actually for the past 50000 years there was no real dry land not covered with glaciers. Accordingly, the animal life was absent.

Quite many remains of ancient giants were found in Western Siberia. There are even fragments of bodies with soft tissues preserved: "Yuribei mammoth" from the Gydansk Peninsula (1979)** and the calf "Masha" from the western coast of Yamal (1989). The largest segregations are located on the Ob - Irtysh water divide and in the Iset river valley. The age of finds is mostly about 30000 years; the Yuribei sample, which died 10000 years ago, is the "youngest" one, and presents an exception up to Chukotka, which is known for the youngest mammoths all over the world. Here the burial places are confined to the Chaunskaya Bay coast, Enghelghyn Lake, Valkumey Lowland and Wrangel Island (to the east of this area such findings are rather rare). If we take Siberia as a whole, these animals died out 10000 years ago, however, in the basin of the Rauchuah river, on the western coast of Chaunskaya Bay, the age of the bones is 6000 years, and on Wrangel Island - only 4000. It is true that the bones are poorly preserved: the last herds of "northern elephants" were not numerous and were isolated, the food base changed for the worse (the grass was replaced by moss), and these amazing animals became smaller - of the cow size.

It is assumed that bottom sediments of the continental terrace of the Eastern Siberian and Laptev seas-shelf extension of the littoral lowland of Northern Yakutia and Western Chukotka - hide enormous quantities of tusks. The said seas are shallow, the 100-m isobar runs at 78 - 79 parallel. For example, Dutch fishermen, who use bottom trawls, often fish up mammoth's bones, which are examined by paleontologists. The fossil ice performs an important role in the formation of sea cliffs of the mainland and Novosibirsk islands - polygonal-lode formations, that break through loessial-alluvial deposits, which cover up to 50 - 80 percent of the ground. It should be noted that in summer, particularly, during storms, ice melts intensively, and the coastline steps back to a distance up to 10 m and more per year. Its place is superceded by the sea.


The peak of the last glacial period was 18000 years ago. Then the substantial part of sea water was transformed into continental ice, and the decrease of the level of Arctic seas reached 100 m as compared with the present indicator. The


See: "Zharkov's Mammoth", Science in Russia, No. 5, 2000. - Ed.

** See: "Mammoth From the Gydansk Peninsula", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2006. - Ed.

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rise of an enormous part of the shelf caused the formation of a vast dry land area - Beringia, which connected Asia with North America. The lands were quickly covered with eolian loessial deposits brought by stable southeastern and southwestern winds from the final moraines of the powerful ice cap in the area of Verkhoyansk Range and Cherskogo mountain system. These fields of Late Pleistocene loessial-glacial stratum occupied an enormous area in the northeast of Asia and in North America.

As the climate became warmer and the glaciers were melting, the seas were replenished with water and flooded diminished estuarine plots of river valleys and vast littoral flatlands bordering the continental part in the north. Today these areas and ancient coastline are registered by geophysical tracks at the depth of 50 - 80 m. About 13000 years ago Bering Strait was formed, and this has recently been fixed at the depth of 40 m. The ten-thousand-year mark is at the depth of 25 m, seven-thousand-at 15 m and four-thousand-year mark-at 10 m. Formation of the present coastline started about 3000 years ago, when mammoths on the Wrangel Island had been already extinct. It turns out that they lived on an island of greater size, but small size of the herd (about 200 heads) resulted in inbreeding, diseases, degeneration and rather fast extinction.

Even earlier the death of these giants occurred in the area of the present Chuanskaya Gulf. There was no bay at that time, the place was occupied by a grassy lowland, which served as a forage base for the remaining mammoths. At that time the sea had already flooded the terrain westward and eastward, the way for animals to migrate was cut off, and the way to the south was not accessible for them, since they could not cross the mountains.

A part of loessial-glacial deposits was preserved in flooded state under a thin layer of bottom marine sediments. Apparently, they also contain bony remnants of Pleistocene animals, particularly, in the vicinity of the shores permanently destroyed by waves. First of all, this is related to the Dmitri Laptev Strait that separates Oiyagossky and Khaptashinsky gills from the Bolshoi Lyakhovsky island.

It would be reasonable to mention the fate of several islands in aquatic areas of East-Siberian Sea and Laptev Sea. Thus, in 1823, in the vicinity of Novosibirsk islands, the expedition of Russian polar explorer Peter Anzhu discovered and examined Semenovsky and Vasilyevsky islands, formed of Edome series with glacial lenses and remains of the mammoth fauna. The length of the first island was 8 miles, of the second one - 5 miles, the height of the sea cliffs - 25 m. In 90 years their length shortened to 2.5 miles. Vasilyevsky island was fully washed off by 1936, Semenovsky - by 1950. Their above-water part was about 1 km 3 and, except for ice, it shifted into the bottom deposits together with the bones. Probably, the same fate overtook the legendary Sannikov Land* and Andreyev Land, which had been watched from a distance by a number of explorers.

In a word, it would be reasonable to assume that for a relatively short period - less than 10000 years - enormous volumes of bone-containing deposits were processed by thermal abrasion, and millions of tusks were redeposited in recent bottom sediments of Arctic seas. According to calculations of Nikolai Vereshchagin, honorary chairman of the Russian Academy of Sciences Mammoth Committee, about 100000 mammoths simultaneously inhabited the territory of Eastern Siberia. This fauna was in full vigor in the period of 10 - 50000 years ago. For 40000 years about 1000 generations changed and about 100 mln giants died. These figures may serve as a basis for calculating probable reserves of a unique mineral resource-fossil ivory.

However, if the animals had died due to natural reasons only, such great segregations of remains would not have formed. In fact, it is impossible today to find elephant burials in African savannah: all soft tissues are torn to pieces by quadruped and feathered predatory scavengers in a few hours. Bones and tusks are eliminated by rodents and bone-eating bugs. Skeletons of elephants are preserved only in those cases when animals die in rivers, swamps and are covered with silt. Probably the same situation occurred

See: V. Glushkov, "Sannikov Land: Fact or Fiction?", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2004. - Ed.

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with mammoths. Like other northern herbivorous animals, in spring they moved to the north and in autumn-to the south in search of forage reserves. Crossings through powerful Siberian rivers and sea straits could be carried out only on ice, unstable for such giants both in spring and autumn. Their mass death took place, like it happens nowadays to hoofed animals, as they cross rivers in Africa. As migration routes had not changed for centuries, bodies of animals were brought with water flows to quiet backwaters, forming segregations there. Not without reason the well-known burial grounds (e.g., Berelekhskoye one) are revealed in the area of crossings over large rivers.

When Novosibirsk islands separated from the continent, representatives of the mammoth fauna were continuing to migrate southward in autumn, however, they were moving over thin sea ice (within the historical period such large-scale migrations of deer herds, that had remained alive, were watched by many explorers). And drowned in great quantities. It cannot be ruled out that this has resulted in numerous osseous remains on the shores of the Dmitri Laptev Strait.


Today's reconstructions of mammoth habitats demonstrate the following: in Kargin and Sartan times of Upper Pleistocene, i.e. about 53 - 10000 years ago, they lived on the whole continental space of Eurasian north: from Fennoscandia to Chukotka, including Beringia and Eastern-Arctic shelf area. Northernmost findings of their remains have been registered on the North Land, islands of Bennette, Zhokhov and Wrangel. At the same time they are absent on Spitsbergen, on Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zemlya (Western-Arctic shelf area), and on the continent to the west of the Severnaya Dvina they are sporadic. The reason probably lies in the long-term ice cover in Upper Pleistocene: Valdai glacier covered Scandinavia, Pomorye, Bolshezemelskaya and Malozemelskaya tundras as a single blanket, the northern part of West-Siberian flatland, Byrranga mountains on Taimyr and Middle-Siberian Highland, and also Western-Arctic archipelagoes.

By contrast with the Western-Arctic region, glacial shields of late Pleistocene period in Eastern Siberia and in the northeast of Asia were featured by limited sizes and were developed in Verkhoyanskaya and Suntar-Khayata ranges, Cherskogo mountain system, mountains in the areas of the Omolon, Bolshoi and Maly Anui rivers. Isolated glaciers were located on Stanovoye highland (Eastern Transbaikal area) and in the area of Ledyanaya mountain in the north-east of Koryak highland (Kamchatka).

An important paleographic factor that determined the borders of mammoth biotypes on high latitudes, and later influenced safety and evolution of primary bone-bearing sediments, are transgressions and regressions of Arctic seas. Fluctuations of the Arctic ocean level in Pleistocene reflected the change in the masses of continental glaciers: they melted, and the ocean level went up, and vice versa. The regressive phase that took place 36 - 17,000 years ago was accompanied by a drop of the level by 100 m, whereas the transgressive phase that followed 17 - 16,000 years ago exceeded the level substantially, however, its present state was reached only 7 - 6,000 years ago. And it was the very period, when in the area of Chaunskaya Gulf the last continental mammoths died out, being cut off from the western flatland by the advancing water.

Accumulative marine terraces and littoral lowlands present an evidence of invasion of the marine polar basin in

стр. 105

the age of middle-Valdai warming (Kargin time - 47 - 24,000 years ago). They occupy up to two thirds of the territories of Yamal, Gydansk and Tazovsk peninsulas, are found in the northern framing of Byrranga mountains on Taimyr and in North-Siberian lowland, are fragmentarily discovered along the coastline of Eastern Chukotka. Only in Late Kargin period the sea stepped back, and on the drained areas a tundra forest landscape emerged, which was favorable for the mammoth fauna. As for the geological record of littoral flatlands extending from the basin of the Khatanga river to Western Chukotka, it is fully represented by continental formations: this territory was permanently suitable for the existence of terrestrial animals.

Late Valdai cooling (Sartan period - 24 - 10,000 years ago) caused significant regression, during which the level of Arctic seas lowered by 100 m and more. The north of Western Siberia was a setting for Ural, Byrranga and Putoran glaciers with typical landscapes of polar desert. The littoral flatland, which today features continental sediments of low thickness (alluvial, limnic and Aeolian), containing osseous remains, extended here far to the north embracing a vast drained shelf of the Kara Sea. At the same time, in the littoral lowland of North Yakutia, a dry area of Kargin period still existed outside the glacier zone, which was featured by domination of Arctic steppes abundant with the mammoth fauna. Loessial-glacial mass of Aeolian origin covered immense areas of the entire dried shelf - the so-called Arctic Beringia (Arctida). Later on, a substantial part of this flatland was flooded by the water of the Laptev Sea and East Siberian Sea.

Post-glacier transgression, that started about 17,000 years ago, was developing to the mid-Holocene (6 - 5,000 years ago), when the level of Arctic Ocean reached the present mark. Underwater sea terraces, bars and beach ridges testify to a graduate rise of the coastline, which made up about 100 m. Its later insignificant and local fluctuations are probably related to neotectonic movements. In Yano-Kolymskaya lowland - one of the "mammoth" regions - apparent traces of Holocene sea terraces are absent, or they are insignificant both in area and height (0.5 - 4 m) and adjoin loessial-glacial formations of Edome series.

стр. 106

Now it is well known that the habitat of ancient giants extended a long way southward from Arctic coastline, however, primary accumulators of their remains are spread only within the limits of the present continuous zone of permafrost. It extends in a wide strip along the northern coast of Eurasia from Kola Peninsula to Bering Strait and is registered even on the shelf of Arctic seas. Just on this area, at least from the times of Zyranskoye glaciation (about 70,000 years ago), there existed stable physico-geographical conditions for preservation of the bones; in the open air they are destroyed fully in the course of several decades.


Mammoth's tusks have been valued as a mineral product for a long time. The first tusk-producing province in the north of Russia was the eastern part of Bolshezemelskaya tundra: Nenets people (engaged in reindeer-breeding) collected this material in areas of pastures and camping-grounds. Their findings, though poorly preserved, yet were fit for jobbing, and their main consumer became the Kholmogory bone-cutting shop near Arkhangelsk. However, in the mid - 19th century, scientists found out that to the west of Ural the resources of this valuable material had run low.

Regarded as the earliest center of bone-cutting in Western Siberia is Mangazeya. Settlers from Pomorye had brought with them the traditions of Kholmogory craftsmen. Then this trade was adopted by artisans from Tobolsk. In the 19th century, during fairs in Obdorsk and Turukhansk, up to 1.61 of fossil-ivory articles were sold each year. After 1917, its output in the region actually stopped.

The only stable region of ancient "elephants" bone business in the world is Northern Yakutia. The area covers the coast of Arctic Ocean from Khatanga to Kolyma: lower reaches of the Lena, Yana, Indigirka and Alazeya rivers, and also Novosibirsk islands. In 1908, the manufacturer Nikifor Begichev collected about 650 kg of tusks (!) on an island located in the Khatanga Bay mouth (later the island was named Bolshoi Begichev in his honor). However, the maximum quantity of tusks was extracted to the east of this area, on Oiyagossky gill, and the right to run the trade there was given to Yakuts only, and Russian enterprises owned only the eastern part of adjacent Khaptashinsk gill (southern coast of the Dmitri Laptev Strait). The wealth of this region is seen in the fact that in the early 18th century, during winter fairs in Yakutia up to 25 t of tusks were on sale annually, and they were mainly delivered from Novosibirsk islands.

Trade relations that provided for the supply of fossil ivory from Arctic regions of Asia to the markets of the East existed before the arrival of Russians there. The peak of supplies to European countries fell on the 18th century. Extraction of this fossil in the 19th century averaged 25 t/year. It is known, for example, that in 1872, 1.6 thousand tusks with the total weight of about 110 t were delivered to England from Moscow. For the second half of the 18th century and the entire 19th century (150 years) no less than 3,000 t of fossil ivory were brought to the world market. And its price in European markets exceeded 10 times that in Russia.

According to statistical data of production in the 19th century, the average weight of one tusk was 25 - 30 kg. And maximum registered dimensions of a male mammoth's tusk were as follows: weight - 86 kg, length - 380 cm, diameter at the teethridge - 18 cm.

Before the beginning of the 20th century, Russia was a monopolistic owner of this valuable raw material and covered a significant sector of the world trade. Later on fossil

стр. 107

The map of findings of the fossil mammoth fauna in Yakutia.

ivory was forced out from the international market by real ivory, mostly supplied by African countries. In the first half of the 20th century, about 50,000 elephants were killed annually. Only in 1986, when a record number - 80,000 of these animals were exterminated - a real war was declared on poachers at the government level. Nevertheless, in the mid - 1990s only about 200,000 of these giants remained.

Tough international restrictions introduced to ivory trading, that resulted in a full ban in 1990 forced bone-cutting centers of Europe and Asia to look for raw materials in Russia. In 1989 - 1991 first small (up to 1 t) lots of mammoth tusks were bought. The domestic market perked up as well. A number of commercial export organizations appeared: Russian Mammoth Company, "Glaciation Period". A trade that almost vanished in the country after the First World War started to revive. In the early 1990s, a great volume of raw materials was supplied to the foreign market, which caused a sharp decrease in prices and demand. One can say that today the extinct mammoths are saving elephants from full extermination.

In 1992, the National Mammoth Fund of the Republic of Sakha and Mammoth Museum worked out specifications for fossil tusks and their fragments. According to these specifications all tusks are divided into tusks of collector value and ornamental ones. The former are intended for demonstration as exhibition samples and museum showpieces and are evaluated individually on the basis of safety and other indicators. The latter are used for manufacturing souvenirs, ornaments and are used in industry. The price of graded (well-preserved) tusks in Moscow ranges within 50 to 120 dollars per 1 kg.

In February 2005, the first international fair of mammoth tusks took place in Yakutia, at which several tons of tusks were sold. Decision was made to organize such events on a regular basis. According to the data of RF Ministry of Culture about 30 t of tusks are annually exported abroad for selling.

Today everyone may get acquainted with the unique samples of products made of fossil ivory in a specially equipped pavilion at the All-Russia Exhibition Center in Moscow, where Shidlovsky's National Alliance "Glaciation Period" has arranged and is permanently replenishing a wonderful exposition. Included in the plans of these enthusiasts is a project of creating a unique "Mammoth Room" in the world (by analogy with the well-known "Amber Chamber" in Tsarskoye Selo.

Bone-cutting business has been actively developing in many uluses of the Republic of Sakha, and ancient traditions are being recovered. In 2005, a festival of fossil ivory took place in Yakutsk, where all main bone-cutting enterprises and shops, first of all from Kholmogory, Tobolsk and Uelen, participated. Over 2,000 fossil ivory souvenirs were sold in the Russian Pavilion of EXPO-2005 World Exhibition. North-Yakut tusk-producing province, which is unique in this field, may soon become a component of a new Arctic mining complex.


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