Ancient Headgear

If you needed further evidence that the world is a weird place, here’s something:  you can actually buy a hat made with authentic woolly mammoth hair for only $10,000.

World's only woolly mammoth hatThe hat has been put up for sale by Vladimir Ammosov, a man from Yakutsk.  His relative had gone to the “woolly mammoth graveyard” at a village in Yakutia and filled a plastic bag with woolly mammoth hair.  (In this part of Siberia, hunting for remains of the gigantic, shaggy, elephant-like creatures who thrived during the Ice Age is a popular local pastime — hey, what else are you going to do in Siberia? — and there is a lively trade in mammoth remains, especially tusks.)  The relative needed cash, and sold the bag of hair to Ammosov, who then had to decide what to do with it.

First, Ammosov got the expert at the local mammoth museum to confirm that the bag did in fact contain mammoth hair, then he decided to have the woolly mammoth hair crocheted into a head-hugging hat in the traditional Yakutian style.  Typically, the hats are made of horse hair, but the ancient mammoth hair served just as well.

It’s not exactly a flattering piece of headgear, and because mammoth hair was coarse — after all, it served as protection against the cold during an Ice Age — the hat is described as “prickly” to wear.  It was put up for sale in August, but I’ve found no follow-up stories to indicate whether it has actually been sold.  Could it be that there is no one out there willing to pay $10,000 for an ugly, uncomfortable hat woven from the hair of extinct, long-dead creatures?  Maybe the world isn’t quite as crazy as we think.

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Puppies Of The Permafrost

In the far northeast region of Russia, in an area called Yakutia, portions of the permafrost are melting.  From time to time, the melt exposes the tusks of long-dead wooly mammoths, which are prized by collectors, so local hunters regularly prowl the melt zone, looking for trophies they can sell.

information_items_3462Instead, five years ago the hunters found . . . a puppy, still locked in the ice but apparently perfectly preserved.

When the hunters made the find they alerted scientists who flew to the area and found another frozen puppy from the same litter nearby.  The puppies date back 12,460 years, to the last Ice Age.  The remains of the two puppies have now been extracted from the permafrost and are being studied by excited researchers.  Because the puppies apparently were killed by a mudslide and then immediately encapsulated in the oncoming ice, all of their soft tissue — brains, internal organs, fur, and skin — has been preserved, which is exceptionally rare.  Even parasites on the puppies’ bodies were frozen in place and are being studied.  (It makes you wonder how quickly the ice was advancing, doesn’t it?)

Because the puppies were found close to some butchered and burned mammoth bones, suggestive of the presence of early humans, scientists are very curious as to whether the pups were simply part of a wolfpack in the area, or were part of a wolf-like but separate species that already was allied with early humans and later developed into fully domesticated dogs.  The research on the remains of the two puppies will undoubtedly help in the broad ongoing effort to unravel where the modern dog came from.

It’s pretty amazing to see the body of a mammal so perfectly preserved from a time long before the pharoahs and the building of the Sphinx, when mammoths and saber-toothed tigers still roamed the planet.  It makes you wonder what other remains might be locked in the permafrost, waiting to be exposed in the gradual melt.  Could there be a perfectly preserved Neanderthal or one of those mysterious Denisovans who could teach us a lot about the dawn of humans?

Growing Ancient Fruit, Thanks To Our Friends The Squirrels

Scientists in Siberia have discovered and grown ancient fruit — thanks to some Arctic ground squirrels that lived thousands of years before the end of the last Ice Age.

The squirrels had stashed the fruit in their burrows dug deep into the permafrost.  The fruit quickly froze and has remained frozen for 30,000 years.  The squirrel burrows were left undisturbed and were apparently discovered by people looking for the remains of mammoths and other Ice Age creatures.  Scientists took the frozen fruit and, using advanced techniques, have been able to grow plants from the fruit remains — making the fruit, from a plant called Silene Stenophylla, by far the oldest plant material brought back to life after an extended period of dormancy.  The discovery gives scientists hope that they might be able to find, and revive, the frozen remains of extinct Arctic region plants.

Who knows what happened to the squirrels that originally stashed the fruit?  Perhaps they were eaten by a stray saber-tooth tiger or some other Ice Age predator.  But their pack-rat storage habits have allowed scientists to bring an ancient plant back to life — and have given new meaning to the notion of squirreling things away.