Mammoth Tusks and 10,000 year old Bison Skulls


Everyone has days where one amazing thing after another occurs. But when you’re conducting research in the Siberian Arctic, amazing events take on a whole new meaning. Take, for example, my past 24 hours.

It began after last night’s dinner, when Sergi Zimov hauled a giant mammoth tusk into the barge, let it crash onto the floor, and encouraged us to examine it. It weighed a ton, and was far heavier than any of us could have imagined. He then informed us that it was only half a tusk of a young mammoth, and proceeded to give an impromptu talk on his brainchild, Pleistocene Park. Following the lecture, we heard excited cries from outside that an owl had landed on the walkway to the barge. We all ran out just in time so see a beautiful, giant owl flying away holding its prey.

Today, Valentin, Chris Linder, two researchers from Alaska and I went with Sergi Davidov on what may be the best sampling excursion I have ever experienced. We went to Rodinka, one of the largest mountains in the vicinity, to take soil samples down the slope. As we hiked to our first sampling site, vast amount of wild blueberries were under our feet waiting for us to bend down and pick them for a quick mid-walk snack. Then, once we got to our first site, we saw a large bear frocking about and eating berries!

This should have been the highlight of our sampling trip, but surprisingly it got better. As we proceeded downslope, we ran across an abandoned gold mine which cut into the ridge and provided an amazing view of the soil’s geologic layers. Along the way, Davidov gave us a personalized ecology talk. We then entered a dry creek bed which had weathered away the ground down to Pleistocene soils and exposed old bones. During our walk, we saw a 10,000 year old bison shoulder bone, a horn, and part of a bison skull.

Further on, we saw some enormous wolf tracks. But, surprisingly, the highlight was still to come. Our final sampling site was situated in the middle of a hilly field of wildflowers. We ended up working amongst a sweetly scented blanket of yellow, purple, and white in what Chris Linder called our “Sound of Music” sampling site.

All and all, an amazing day. Until later!

3 Responses to “Mammoth Tusks and 10,000 year old Bison Skulls”

  1. July 15, 2010 at 10:35 am, Larry Robbins said:

    Great picture Max. Melissa could your smile be any bigger.

  2. July 15, 2010 at 11:12 am, Jo Beld said:

    Other people will have summer stories about a great music festival experience, or backpacking trip, or visit to a European city, or something along those lines. Not Polaris students! They talk about going on “the best sampling excursion” they have ever experienced! I love it! – Jo

  3. June 27, 2011 at 6:34 pm, wherein I learn about Pleistocene Park on the radio | The Polaris Project said:

    […] ago in a NY Times piece about the Polaris Project. It’s tough. It’s a reminder that amazing things happen in Siberia and that I’m lucky to be a scientist on the forefront of such a timely […]