Not an easy task, trying to find a sperm in Siberia
An expedition failed to find a mammoth, but dug up lots of cliches, writes Amanda New: Equinox: Resurrecting the Mammoth Channel 4
Sunday 06 September 1998
It sounds implausible, but Equinox made it seem at least worth a try. Professor Goto - whose English led him to speak delightfully about the "permaforest" in Siberia, the most promising terrain for a mammoth-hunter (if for nothing else) - has already achieved renown by implanting technically dead bovine sperm into a cow and producing a calf; now he wanted to find an equivalent drop of mammoth sperm. In 1901 a Siberian deer-hunter came upon a mammoth which had food in its mouth and an erect penis; this would have been perfect for Professor Goto, and he was hoping for something similar. But as he trawled through ice and mud and mosquitoes the prospect seemed - and stayed - remote.
In the absence of any exciting footage of the discovery - or indeed, of any existing archive material on the mammoths themselves - Equinox fell back on some absurd reconstructions. Explaining that Goto planned to cross mammoth sperm with an Asian elephant, and that this would need to be done for three generations before the creature became 88 per cent mammoth, we saw a series of computerised Dumbos plodding into the limelight, with tusks of ever-increasing curvature. It was as if the programme could not itself take the science seriously; it kept wanting to make a cartoon out of the idea. Who knows how many naturalists and palaeontologists might have been eager to advance their views? Equinox preferred to get its special effects team to wonder what a Mammelant or Elemoth might look like, or visit a mammoth fan called Paul Martin who was convinced that mammoths had been the victims of "animal genocide" by our hunter-gathering ancestors. For a while, it seemed he might suggest that we get our act together and - through the UN, perhaps - issue some sort of a formal "apology" to the mammoth; but in the end he restrained himself.
As the recreation of a mammoth came to seem an implausible idea, a more immediate problem loomed up: the language of the narration stood in urgent need of resuscitation. There were a few pleasantly precise references to the plight, 10,000 years ago, of "megafauna". But otherwise the voice- over teemed with familiar parasites: a steady procession of predictable cliches marched through silly reconstructions in which elephants wearing hairy wigs crashed into the mud beside some prehistoric lake, with some dodgy growling and trumpeting noises going on in the long grass. Right at the start the narrator pledged to "unravel the mysteries" surrounding mammoths, and that was only the beginning. The Siberian landscape was - what else? - "inhospitable"; we found ourselves travelling to the "heart" of Professor Goto's "quest"; most of the physical effort was "sheer"; everyone worked "deep" into the night; the search for a well-reserved beast was - of course - a "hit-and-miss affair"; the deluge that may have wiped out the mammoth was "cataclysmic"; the ironies raised by its disappearance were "supreme". And so on. It wasn't the mammoth that stood in need of a fresh injection of DNA; it was the language. Maybe, some day, a canny Japanese researcher with one eye on the Nobel Prize will devise a way to isolate and preserve the essence of the Oxford English Dictionary, and carefully graft it on to the procedures of documentary television.
There seemed so much that could have been said on so grand a possibility (not least on the ethical implications raised by such a venture). Crosses have been achieved, we were told excitedly, between camels and llamas, but there was no mention of the more glamorous tiglon (half tiger, half lion), which used to be popular in circuses. We were, however, granted one extraordinary glimpse of the scale - sorry, the "sheer" scale - of Siberia. When the aforesaid priapic mammoth was found in 1901, it was cut into 26 pieces, loaded onto sledges, and dragged to St Petersburg. The journey took 10 months, crossing a third of the circumference of the globe. Siberia is big, not to say mammoth. No wonder the Professor struggled to find what he was looking for.
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Notting Hill Carnival: Woman shares selfie after being ‘punched in face for telling man to stop groping her’
- 2 Keira Knightley topless: Usually conservative actress does own take on #Freethenipple campaign for Interview Magazine
- 3 Oil tanker with $100 million cargo goes missing off Texas coast
- 4 George Galloway left with severe bruising after attack in Notting Hill by man 'shouting about the Holocaust'
- 5 Medina: Saudis take a bulldozer to Islam's history
Strictly Come Dancing 2014: Gregg Wallace joins line-up as final celebrities revealed
Great British Bake Off 2014: Ofcom receives 13 complaints about Baked Alaska episode
Nicki Minaj suffers wardrobe malfunction during MTV VMAs performance with Ariana Grande and Jessie J
Best movies on Netflix UK and US: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
Friends reunion: Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow and Courteney Cox perform mini sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
Robin Williams Emmys tribute led by Billy Crystal criticised for including 'racist' joke about Muslim woman
The Rotherham child abuse scandal is a tale of apologists, misogyny and double standards
Scottish independence TV debate: Pumped-up Alex Salmond bounces back in bruising second round against Alistair Darling
Do you realise just how foolish the UK looks?
Ukip Douglas Carswell defection: Tory MP jumps ship to join Nigel Farage
When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools
- < Previous
- Next >