Scientists in Siberia are claiming to have found the frozen remains of a new distinct species of pygmy mammoth. If confirmed, this could be proof that more than one species of dwarf mammoth once roamed Ice Age Earth.
This mammoth has something else unusual about it too. According to Dr Albert Protopopov, head of the department for the study of mammoth fauna at the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), talking to the Siberian Times: “Its hair looks golden in the Sun.”
The carcass of the adult mini-mammoth, which could be up to 50,000 years old, was discovered preserved in permafrost on Kotelny island, in the north of Sakha Republic, about 40 percent of which lies above the Arctic Circle, covered in permafrost.
Currently, the unfortunate creature is only visible at low tide as it is stuck in an inaccessible tidal area on the island, in between the Laptev and East Siberian Seas. Presently plans are being made to start excavating it in the summer of 2019.
However, there is plenty that they have managed to find out already about the diminutive beast.
It is around 2 meters (7 feet) in height, so roughly two-thirds the size of its closest neighbor, the woolly (Siberian) mammoth, which reached a shoulder height of up to 3.4 meters (11.2 feet), roughly the same as a modern African elephant. The North American imperial mammoth, however, was much larger and could reach over 4 meters (14 feet).
It’s fur also appears to be a golden strawberry blond color, giving it the nickname "Golden Mammoth" (no, not that one). Earlier this year, the remains of a baby woolly rhino were reconstructed to reveal it too sported a fluffy strawberry blond rug.
“We are yet to discover whether this is an anomaly, or something quite typical for this area – when a grown-up mammoth looks like a pygmy,” Dr Protopopov told the Siberian Times.
"We have had reports about small mammoths found in that particular area, both grown-ups and babies. But we had never come across a carcass. This is our first chance to study it.”
Protopopov and his team are convinced this specimen is an example of a new distinct species of dwarf mammoth that arose in the heyday of the creatures, the Karginsky interglacial, between 22,000 and 50,000 years ago. They argue that previous remains of dwarf mammoths found on both the Wrangel Islands of Siberia and the Channel Islands off California, are due to the “island effect”, where a group gets cut off from the main group and evolves separately.
"Our theory is that in this period the mammoths significantly rose in numbers – and this led to the biggest diversity of their forms,” he added. “I think that our new mammoth is not related to the Wrangel mammoth population. This was a different era and different case.”
Since Kotelny Island would have been attached to the mainland in the Ice Age, it’s not impossible. We'll have to wait and see.