Pleistocene Time Machine


As a child I visited many parks and historical sites. At most of these parks the rangers always mentioned that there was a chance that you might find fossils, bones or artifacts as you walked along. Finding a fossil or preserved bone is something that I dreamed about every time I visited one of these places. I have no doubt it wasn’t only me—the idea of finding a piece of history amazes everyone from children to adults.

This past Saturday we took the barge to Duvannyi Yar, the place where my dreams came true. Duvannyi Yar is an eroding riverbank along the Kolyma River. The fine powdery soils here were formed from dust carried across the planet by wind. Over time, water has seeped into the cracks in the soil. The seasonal freezing and thawing of water has pushed open these cracks creating larger and larger wedges of ice. These wedges now underlay the soil and are pushing apart the land, creating a unique landscape. The river has also played a significant role in melting the underlying ice and cutting away the landscape, exposing prehistoric soils. The ground is wet and treacherous; covered with the remnants of fallen trees and pools of mud in which you will sink past your knees faster than you would in quicksand.

An otherworldly landscape.

An otherworldly landscape.

These exposed soils contain the relics of the productive Pleistocene ecosystem. Every step towards the shore felt like a step through time. The bones of mammoths, prehistoric horses and other massive Pleistocene mammals litter the landscape. Finding them requires one to do nothing more than distinguish them from equally common sticks and logs. Fragmented bones cease to be objects of wonder. It is no longer a matter of simply finding a bone but instead of finding the best bone. An intact bone, such as a leg or a jaw and sections of extremely valuable mammoth tusk, are considered among the best possible finds. The desire to find more and more bones lead our group to spend hours walking down the treacherous shoreline. We returned to the barge with our small boat full of dreams made reality. To say the least Duvannyi Yar appeals to everyone’s childhood dreams and is a place worth traveling half the world to visit.

Nikita Zimov judges the 'best bone' competition.

Nikita Zimov judges the ‘best bone’ competition.