Revolutionary Study Traces Woolly Mammoth’s Migration and Human Interaction in Alaska

ANCHORAGE, Alaska—A recent study reveals an intriguing connection between early human settlements in what is now Alaska and the movements of a female woolly mammoth that lived 14,000 years ago. The research suggests that these ancient humans established their seasonal hunting camps in areas where woolly mammoths gathered.

The study, conducted by researchers from the United States and Canada, utilized a new tool for isotope analysis, an ancient tusk, and a map of archaeological sites in Alaska to establish the link between the two species. The tusk belonged to a woolly mammoth named Élmayųujey’eh, or Elma for short, which was discovered in 2009 at the Swan Point archaeological site in central Alaska.

The researchers used a high-precision tool at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Alaska Stable Isotope Facility to analyze strontium isotopes in the tusk. Strontium, a stable isotope, reveals details about an animal’s life. By mapping the strontium levels in Elma’s tusk, the researchers were able to determine her movements.

Interestingly, the densest area of archaeological sites in Alaska from the late Pleistocene overlapped significantly with the areas Elma frequented during her lifetime. This suggests that early humans intentionally established hunting camps in areas where woolly mammoths had a strong presence.

The findings shed light on the behavior of woolly mammoths and provide insights into the interaction between humans and these prehistoric giants. Professor Love Dalén, an expert in evolutionary genomics at the Centre for Palaeogenetics in Stockholm, Sweden, described the study as groundbreaking and praised the use of different molecular tools such as isotope, DNA, and radiocarbon analyses.

The research also challenges the stereotypical image of early humans as aggressive hunters. The study team commissioned a natural history illustrator, Julius Csotonyi, to create a digital image that depicts a family of humans observing the woolly mammoths. Lead researcher Audrey Rowe emphasized that these humans were not just aggressive hunters but spent significant time teaching their children the necessary skills for survival.

The study, published in the journal Science Advances, offers valuable insights into the relationship between early humans and woolly mammoths in Alaska, providing a more nuanced understanding of our prehistoric past. As scientists continue to explore new combinations of research tools, we can expect further breakthroughs that contribute to our understanding of science and history.