Saturday, April 25, 2009

The National Geographic Channel Presents Waking the Baby Mammoth

In May 2007, a reindeer herder named Yuri Khudi discovered her. She miraculously re-appeared on a riverbank in northwestern Siberia. She is the most perfectly preserved woolly mammoth ever discovered and her name is Lyuba. A 1-month-old baby mammoth, she walked the tundra about 40,000 years ago and then died mysteriously. This discovery has mesmerized the scientific world - creating headlines across the globe. Everyone wants to know... how did she die? What can she tell us about life during the ice age and the Earth's changing climate? Will scientists be able to extract her DNA, and what secrets will it uncover?

You can follow the journey by watching Waking the Baby Mammoth presented by the National Geographic Channel. The premier show is airing Sunday, April 26, 2009 at 8 pm central standard time.

I had the opportunity to pre-screen the program. What I like best is the inside view into the scientific field of paleontology - the study of pre-historic, often extinct forms of life. The film provides a rare glimpse into how such scientists formulate questions, their methods and high-tech tools and equipment, and how they interpret the results of their find. I study living animals that are abundant and relatively easy to find, so I was curious as to how scientists study a subject that is rare.

As I learned in the film, paleontology is a very collaborative effort. With so many people interested in a single, delicate subject, it is important that they work together. A team of scientists from across the globe worked together to discover the secrets Lyuba, and each of them had their own specialty. They carefully planned their questions and work to harvest tissues, specimens and images of Lyuba – inside and out – all while disturbing her carcass as little as possible.
But this story wouldn’t be possible without the help of non-scientists, citizens like Yuri Khudi and Kirill Seretetto, who called the appropriate authorities so that the mammoth could be studied for science. This film presents a great example as to how the scientific community and general public are partners in the discovery of “human knowledge at large”. Working together they were able to bring an important specimen to the world’s attention and answer those questions about how Lyuba and her kind lived, how she may have died, and how she came to be discovered in such remarkable shape.

Only a handful of mammoths have ever been found before; but none quite like her. Here in the St. Louis, Missouri Metro area, we also have connections to a historic woolly mammoth find. At Principia College, in Elsah, Illinois, the teeth of an ancient mammoth was luckily discovered when the campus was preparing for a new construction project in 1999. Since that time the Department of Geology and scores of students have participated in what might be described as the best class project ever – A Mammoth Dig! You can read about their progress over the semesters here and see pictures of the bones they have unearthed here. The College does participate in science education outreach, hosting several hundred K-12 students each year. Visit the website to get more information.

You can also learn more about the ice age and woolly mammoths in the upcoming issue of National Geographic Magazine or at the interactive website.Come back and check out my other “Mammoth” posts I have in store this week and tell me what you think about the show.


Alycia in Va. said...

Thanks for posting. I literally was just reading your blog on google reader, saw your post, google national geographic channel and am now watching this....and it's very interesting.

Ratty said...

I've seen the commercials. Wow, I didn't know this little mammoth was so complete. I missed the first showing, so I hope they replay it.

Lori said...

That is so cool. I grew up near there. The Principia campus is beautiful. I didn't even know about this!

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