The research odyssey "Mammoth Effect" is a symbiotic platform of scientists, documentary filmmakers and polar explorers. For the fourth time in three years it conducts an expedition to the New Siberian Islands.
“A long-term project is being carried out jointly with the Russian Geographical Society, the Ministry of Defense and the Academy of Sciences of the republic of Sakha”, writes Ulus.media with reference to the Arctic Lighthouse newspaper.
Ancient artefacts on Stolbovoy Island
Thomas Simokaitis was excited. In his small office he made a discovery that he would lose sleep over for many months.
Four years ago, studying a map of the Bulunsky ulus, he imagined how it would look two hundred thousand years ago. The archaeologist saw the vast expanses of land on the site of the modern Laptev Sea and the giant Paleolena River dissecting the ancient land. He tensely plotted the model of ancient Beringia.
There he noted three points: Stolbovoy, Belkovsky, Tas-Ary. Usually river islands have such an oblong shape. And the location clearly indicated that it was the Paleolena that ground them.
But most of all his attention was attracted by Cape Skalisty that was 138 meters high, located on the ground where there were no other elevations around for hundreds of miles. Like Thomas, unable to turn his eyes from Stolbovaya Island, an ancient man could not tear himself away from the only rock rising over the tundra. After all, this wasn’t just an observation post, but also the only source of materials for weapons and tools.
He could only calm down in 2018, when during archaeological exploration on the island he discovered 70 kg of artifacts of a primitive man including a knife-shaped plate.
Over a year there was a point discussed by Russian archaeologists: a valuable find testifies to the existence of yet undescribed “Stolbovoy” industry. It was necessary to find more materials. Therefore, it was decided to perform excavations on the territory of the island. Viktor Dyakonov was assigned to deal with that.
On the sixth day of work in the pit he found another knife-shaped plate that revealed the potential of the location.
Thomas set himself a task to find the second parking lot of the “Stolbovoy culture” at all costs. This time he chose Tas-Ary Island, once cut off from Kotelny Island by the channel of the Paleolena river.
The name of the island is literally translated as "stone". Studying the neighboring hydronyms the archaeologist’s attention was drawn by the Chokurka River, which name means “siliceous”. Geologists have confirmed the presence of flint, the hardest rock on the islands. So the second point of the expedition was determined.
The 99th tactical group of the Northern Fleet helped to get there. The Mammoth Effect team was delivered from the Temp airfield to the indicated location by a “Vityaz” all-terrain carrier.
The first two days of the search did not bear fruit. On the third day they opened pits and again without results. On the fourth day the art director of the project saw the crepes in the channel of the stream. A shoe-sized flint was also found there. On the morning of the next day Thomas Simokaitis discovered a quartzite cobblestone with traces of processing in the same decay. It was a nucleus, a stone a primitive man used to split off pointed pieces.
This is where the ancient city was: despite the dense tundra turf, another 15 kg of artifacts were found.
But why quartzite? The answer is simple: flint is too complex to handle. A primitive man’s hand wasn’t developed enough and motor skills did not allow working with such a hard stone. In addition, the decay was hidden under the snow 11 months of the year which means that it was necessary to make tools from what was on top. Even the modern expedition with shovels and maps managed to find flint only on the fourth day.
So an even more northern Paleolithic site was found, which proved that Stolbovoy Island site was no accident. Before the water level rose, the New Siberian Islands were part of the mainland, and probably the ancestors of modern Indians lived on this land.
Who killed Pavlov’s mammoth?
During the excavation of the dwarf mammoth in June 2019 zoologist Innokenty Pavlov came across another skeleton. That actually could happen very often there but the zoologist noticed some strange marks on the skeleton’s ribs. It turned out that one of the skeleton’s blades was pierced with a foreign object and one of tusks was cut into two pieces.
Later the scientist showed to find to Thomas and other archaeologists. The verdict wasn’t clear: the ancient bone tip did get stuck in the shoulder blade but if the mammoth was killed by primitive men then a butchering device had to be left somewhere around.
The third destination of the expedition was appointed. That was the Kozhevina River bay. Thomas hoped that there would be evidence of the existence of a “Stolbovoy culture”, so in August he drew his friend Arkady Sharoborin to work. Unfortunately, they found nothing.
A new theory of mammoth extinction
Meanwhile, a discovery was made in Pavlov’s group. Nikolai Nikolaevich Lashchinsky (professor at Carolinsky University, Doctor of Biological Sciences, chief researcher at the Novosibirsk Botanical Garden) found a new species of sedge. Before that it was believed that these herbs didn’t grow on the islands. That discovery raised even more questions.
Nikolai Nikolaevich advenced a new theory of the extinction of megafauna and now, having explored another part of the island he was finally convinced of it. The paleontologist Valery Plotnikov gave him a clue saying that the mammoths were nomadic creatures and were actively moving along the tundra to feed themselves.
However, the main harm that man does to nature is the fragmentation of habitats. Breaking the usual animal routes with cities and roads we are reducing their food supply. But before man the same thing could happen naturally.
During the melting of the glaciers the water level rose flooding the tundra. So animal megafauna was locked on the islands, not having an opportunity to reach the mainland. The same mammoths that remained on the mainland were isolated by full-flowing rivers.
Thus, food requirements remained unchanged, but forage areas decreased. Mammoths became extinct simply from starvation, not having the opportunity to swim across turbulent rivers and sea straits.
“A Filipino”, the movie
Thomas is an ambiguous figure. His concepts do not leave anyone indifferent. Some are in a hurry to challenge them while others after him draw maps of Beringia. But only one fact is irrefutable: Thomas is an interesting and attractive person. His charisma and ability to rush into adventures make you think of him like of a Yakut "Indiana Jones".
A few days ago, the three-year project of the “Mammoth Effect” as well as making a film about the legendary archaeologist and his discoveries ended. In the center of the story is the search for the most ancient pyramid on one of the islands of the Philippine archipelago.
“A Filipino” will become one of the rarest documentary works where everything is shown without embellishment and science is no longer “cabinet picking” but a complex field work full of adventure and internal struggle. We will see an archaeologist who does not believe in himself but with all his heart believes in his theory. He can only find a primitive man when he becomes a primitive man himself.
Sergey Gorbunov, Head of the “Mammoth Effect”:
“For three years we made many amazing discoveries but the most important of them were people. The people who imbued the mission of the project and became its part: scientists, military, polar explorers, construction workers, cameramen and ordinary Tiksi residents.
We made good friends with the head of the Bulunsky ulus Kudryashov Igor Vladislavovich and the head of the Bulunsky inspection of environmental supervision of the Ministry of Ecology of the republic of Sakha Struchkov Innokenty Innokentyevich.
Polar Airlines helped us a lot in delivering the group to the place of the expedition and the Lena River Shipping Company helped with delivering the cargo.
On behalf of the Russian Geographical Society I express special gratitude to our partners - the president of the Academy of Sciences and the command of the Northern Fleet.
We have entered a new five-year phase of the project: international scientific cooperation in the Arctic and the use of innovative technologies in providing expeditions. And now we are making plans for interaction with the Ust-Lensky ulus preserve and the command of the border commandant of the city of Tiksi.