Adopting a mammoth could help scientists discover when they last roamed Alaska

Matthew Wooler of the University of Alaska Fairbanks poses among the tusks of a woolly mammoth

Scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks want to know when a woolly mammoth last fell into the bush in Alaska. He seeks help from an unusual source: people like you.

Matthew Wooler got the idea to adopt a mammoth while walking on a beach in Florida with his wife and two kids last winter.

His plan includes 1,500 mammoth bones, teeth and tusks, which are stored at the UA Museum of the North in Fairbanks. The mammoth fossils donated by explorer Otto Geist and many gold miners over the past 100 years are far more useful treasures for scientists if they knew when the animals lived.

Wooller told his wife, Diane O’Brien, that he was taking a walk on the beach. Ask people if they would pay for radiocarbon dating of one or more of their bones. could help scientists determine when squid disappeared from mainland Alaska. Whoever has the youngest fossil wins!

O’Brien, director of the UAF’s Arctic Biology Laboratory, liked the idea. Crowdsourcing is an unconventional way to do science, but you want to avoid any pressure from funding agencies. Besides, mammoths are fun and the competition is fun.

Before we get into the details, here’s a little more detail on what the contest brings to our knowledge of iconic creatures.

Of all the animals that once walked the earth but do not now, the woolly mammoth is one of the animals we can almost smell.

Their bones appeared on the frozen ground all over the north. A baby mammoth mined by Yukon gold miners in the summer of 2022 appears to be waking up from its blue tarp resting place.

A giant relative of the African and Asian elephants, but with its hairy, longer, curving tusks and small ears, the woolly mammoth is a long-extinct symbol of the Arctic.

The youngest mammoth fossil found on Wrangel Island in northern Siberia is from an animal that lived 3,700 years ago. It was the time when Queen Hatshepsut ruled Egypt as Pharaoh.

The mammoths of Wrangel Island were isolated from the Egyptians and others by sheer distance and icy wilderness. They’re the latest woolly mammoth that we know of to have made it down to at least Mexico.

About a decade ago, researchers including Wooller discovered that mammoths on Alaska’s St. Paul Island lived to be about 5,600 years old. These island mammoths seem to have outlived other Alaskan mammoths by over 5,000 years.

A gold miner holds the femur of a woolly mammoth he found while working on the frozen ground of the Forty Mile River mining district.

“How old is the youngest mammoth fossil ever found in mainland Alaska?” Wooler wonders.

There are 1,500 bones, teeth and fangs in museum drawers and shelves that might help answer that question.

The oldest mammoth fossil found in central Alaska was excavated near Chicken, Alaska and is about 11,600 years old. The animal may have followed a human as a shadow appeared on the horizon from the direction of Asia.

But were mammoths alive after their death in Alaska? will object to

“A larger (time) gap helps downplay that hypothesis,” Wooller said.

With Adopt a Mammoth, anyone who donates a $350 radiocarbon dating fee can receive a digital photograph of their own tusk, femur, or even part of a mammoth that happens to be. Scientists then take a sample of the collagen and send it to the Carbon Dating Laboratory in California. Mammoth adopters will get results on the age of the animal immediately after the scientists do.

That date will sponsor the Youngest Mammoth Contest. The winner will receive a trophy and their photo will be displayed on a plaque in the Northern Museum during the presentation period. The winner may get the satisfaction of helping discover when the last woolly mammoth roared the northern grasslands.

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