1705862918 Ancient DNA and Paleo GPS Rewriting the History of Woolly Mammoths

Ancient DNA and Paleo-GPS: Rewriting the History of Woolly Mammoths and American Colonization – Issues.fr

Researchers have tracked the movements of a woolly mammoth using isotope profiles and linked it to human settlements 14,000 years ago. The study revealed the mammoth's extensive travels and interactions with early humans in Alaska, providing insights into ancient human-mammoth relationships and the broader impacts of climate change and human activities on large mammals. Photo credit: Issues.fr.com

An international study used isotope profiling to link the movements of a woolly mammoth to early human settlements, gaining insight into human-mammoth interactions and the effects of climate and human activities on large mammals.

Imagine traveling back in time to the time of woolly mammoths around 14,000 years ago. A team of international researchers from the University of Ottawa, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, McMaster University, Adelphi University and indigenous academics achieved this. Using new high-resolution isotope profiles (a type of “paleo-GPS”), they were able to link the migrations of a woolly mammoth to the first known human settlements in the remote areas of eastern Beringia (the land and sea area between the Lena River in Russia and the Mackenzie River in Canada).

The paper, published Jan. 17 in Scientific Advances, sheds light on the relationship between mammoths and the region's early hunter-gatherer communities. Through a detailed analysis of the mammoth's remains and genetic connections, researchers were able to piece together the life history and movements of this iconic creature. Species that provide clues to the overlapping habitats of mammoths and humans and the possible role mammoths played in the settlement of the Americas.

The Story of “Elmayuujey’eh”

This study focuses on a female woolly mammoth, “Élmayuujey'eh” (Elma), named by the village council of Healy Lake, Alaska, whose remains were discovered at Swan Point, the oldest archaeological site in Alaska. In addition to the mammoth, the site also contained the remains of a young animal and a baby mammoth, indicating the presence of a herd in the area. This discovery fascinated researchers and prompted further research into the movements and interactions between mammoths and early humans.

Clemens Bataille

“The new tools developed as part of this research will contribute to biodiversity conservation efforts and provide an analogue for modern times. » Clément Bataille – Associate Professor, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science. Photo credit: University of Ottawa

Clément Bataille (Associate Professor, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science, University of Ottawa), lead author and graduate student Audrey Rowe (University of Alaska Fairbanks), and co-author Matthew Wooller (University of Alaska Fairbanks) led an in-depth discussion Isotope analysis of the complete tusk of Élmayuujey'eh. This allowed them to track the mammoth's movements throughout its life.

“Elma wandered extensively in the densest region of archaeological sites in Alaska,” says Rowe. “This suggests a close connection between mammoths and early human hunting camps. »

Meanwhile, Hendrik Poinar and his team at McMaster University conducted genetic analyzes of the remains of eight other mammoths found in the region. They concluded that the Swan Point area likely served as a meeting place for at least two closely related herds. This suggests that mammoths had social structures and exhibited herd behavior.

Solving the mystery of human-mammoth coexistence

“This research provides new information about how humans and mammoths interacted when humans first arrived in the Americas,” says Bataille. “It appears that mammoths, which were abundant in eastern Beringia and an important source of food, attracted humans to the area. »

This is not the first time this geolocation technique has been used to track a mammoth's mobility. The team created it for a study of a 17,000-year-old man named Kik, who, unlike Elma, lived in a colder time when humans had not yet arrived.

Interestingly, Kik and Elma showed very different mobility behavior. Kik moved freely over long distances across large valleys and tundra plains, using regular core areas, while Elma, although still using similar core areas, moved over shorter distances while maintaining a high altitude. This raises questions about the role of humans and climate change on the mobility of this ancient species.

This high-resolution isotope profiling technique can reveal the ecology of many other extinct species. Together with genetic analysis, it is an innovative way to find out how ancient species responded to climate change and human pressure and what ultimately led to their extinction.

By shedding light on the ecology and lifestyle of mammoths, as well as mammoths' long-term interactions with climate change and humans, the study can help us predict how animals will respond to climate and human pressures in the future. “The new tools developed in this research, along with insights into the ecology of extinct species, will contribute to biodiversity conservation efforts and provide an analogue to modern times, when many large mammals are at risk of extinction due to human disturbance and climate. “,” says Bataille.

This study was funded in part by the NSERC Discovery Grants program.