Baby Mammoth CT Scan Reveals Internal Organs

April 11, 2008

The frozen body of a baby woolly mammoth discovered last year in Arctic Russia has provided the first detailed internal look at a prehistoric mammal, scientists report. (See photos.)

The remarkably preserved mammoth calf is named Lyuba after the wife of the hunter who found the 37,000-year-old carcass in the remote Yamalo-Nenetsk region in May 2007.

The oxygen-deprived environment of its final resting place, likely a watery marsh or bog, prevented decay and kept it intact save for only its tail and shaggy coat.

Estimated to be just three to four months old when it died, the female has now been returned to Russia from Japan after undergoing computer tomography (CT) scans.

The Jikei University School of Medicine in Tokyo produced 3-D images of Lyuba's innards, including her heart, liver, and other organs.

"Now we can see all the internal organs in their natural position inside the body," said study team member Alexei Tikhonov, deputy director of the Russian Academy of Science's Zoological Institute in St. Petersburg.

"We received very, very good results," he said, adding that Lyuba represents the best-preserved mammoth specimen so far found.

"This is really the first case where we can see the internal structure of an extinct animal."

Watery Death

The CT scans showed healthy fat tissues and no signs of damage to the skeleton, indicating the 110-pound (50-kilogram) calf was in good shape when it died, Tikhonov said.

It's thought the Ice Age mammal met its end suddenly, when it drowned in a river or a lake, as its trunk, mouth, and digestive tract contained large amounts of mud.

"The last movements of the trunk and its last breathing was bringing a lot of silt inside," Tikhonov said.

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