An 11-year-old Russian boy, following his nose—he smelled something “unpleasant” while walking his dogs, according to news accounts, and it wasn’t what he was scooping up from his pets—discovered a 30,000-year-old fossilized mammoth complete with skeleton, ears, tusk, some facial features and a five-foot-long body part that undeniably identified it as male.
The boy, Yevgeny Salinder, lives with his family near a polar station in Russia’s Taymyr Peninsula and in late August found what a mammoth expert is calling “the mammoth of the century,” Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
Alexei Tikhonov, director of the St. Petersburg-based Zoological Museum, said the boy quickly realized what he’d found, and the family called in the pros. Tikhonov rushed to the site and began excavating, assisted by polar station employees and a Zoological Museum colleague.
Other preserved, thawing mammoths have been found over the past few years, but this proved to be the best-preserved adult mammoth found in more than 100 years, Tikhonov said, the last one having been unearthed in 1901. This one-ton mammoth, its presence unmasked by the melting of the permafrost in the wake of climate change, had lived until age 15 or 16 and sported many intact parts including a tusk, skin, an eye and an ear. The smell of its heels, sticking out of the permafrost and thawing, is what led Zhenya, as the boy is nicknamed, to the beast. And there was something else.
“Its one-meter-long penis is also intact so we can conclude that this was a male,” Tikhonov told AFP, noting that the tusk was the same length. “Its skeleton is virtually intact, and its heart in the rib cage may be intact, too.”
The cause of death was not clear from looking at the animal, the scientist told BBC News. The carcass will be shipped to Moscow for study. Tikhonov said the creature could have met its end either via Ice Age humans or a rival mammoth.
Mammoths roamed the earth for 250,000 years but declined between 20,000 and 25,000 years ago and then petered out about 3,700 years ago. For a long time it was thought that humans had been instrumental in their destruction, but a study earlier this year disproved that, finding that a number of factors had contributed to their demise.