Russian scientists have dated the remains of a group of mammoths found in northern Siberia to less than 4,000 years ago, suggesting that the species may even have survived into more recent times, which could account for 'sightings' in Siberian legends.
The Russians, who have been sworn to secrecy about their research until the results are published in a scientific journal later this year, have told colleagues in Britain and the US that they are confident of the date's accuracy.
Rumours about the work of Andrei Sher, a mammoth specialist at the Institute of Evolutionary Animal Morphology and Ecology in Moscow, and his colleague Lev Sulerzhitzky, an expert in radiocarbon dating, have spread within the international scientific community.
One palaeontologist said the research was 'the most exciting thing since the discovery of the coelacanth', a fish thought to be extinct until one was caught off Africa in 1938. Another Ice Age specialist said Dr Sher was unlikely to have made a mistake 'because there is so much of a mammoth to analyse'.
Asked whether mammoths could have survived into more recent centuries, Dr Sher replied: 'We have such legends in Siberia and frankly I never believed them. But, I don't know.'
Most scientists, including Dr Sher, believe mammoths died out as climate changes at the end of the last Ice Age destroyed their tundra-steppe feeding grounds. Others researchers, however, have suggested that they were hunted to extinction by stone
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