The ecological implications of a Yakutian mammoth's last meal

Bas van Geel, Andre Aptroot, Claudia Baittinger, Hilary H. Birks, Ian D. Bull, Hugh B. Cross, Richard P. Evershed, Barbara Gravendeel, Erwin J. O. Kompanje, Peter Kuperus, Dick Mol, Klaas G. J. Nierop, Jan Peter Pals, Alexei N. Tikhonov, Guido BA van Reenen, Peter H. van Tienderen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

96 Citations (Scopus)


Part of a large male woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) was preserved in permafrost in northern Yakutia. It was radiocarbon dated to ca. 18,500 C-14 yr BP (ca. 22,500 cal yr BP). Dung from the lower intestine was subjected to a multiproxy array of microscopic, chemical, and molecular techniques to reconstruct the diet, the season of death, and the paleoenvironment. Pollen and plant macro-remains showed that grasses and sedges were the main food, with considerable amounts of dwarf willow twigs and a variety of herbs and mosses. Analyses of 110-bp fragments of the plastid rbcL gene amplified from DNA and of organic compounds supplemented the microscopic identifications. Fruit-bodies of dung-inhabiting Ascomycete fungi which develop after at least one week of exposure to air were found inside the intestine. Therefore the mammoth had eaten dung. It was probably mammoth dung as no bile acids were detected among the fecal biomarkers analysed. The plant assemblage and the presence of the first spring vessels of terminal tree-rings of dwarf willows indicated that the animal died in early spring. The mammoth lived in extensive cold treeless grassland vegetation interspersed with wetter, more productive meadows. The study demonstrated the palcoecological potential of several biochemical analytical techniques. (C) 2008 University of Washington. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)361-376
Number of pages16
JournalQuaternary Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2008

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