Woolly Mammoths breaking through the Siberian permafrost

Bones of a Woolly Mammoth

Woolly Mammoth Bones. Image from Flickr.

Watch out, the woolly mammoths are coming back! In the frozen Russian north, under the Siberian permafrost, hunters are once again going out in search of the giant woolly mammoths to support their families. Only now, it’s the bones of their long-dead prey, rather than the woolly mammoths themselves – that they are going after in search of quick cash.

Melting Siberian permafrost exposes woolly mammoth bones

The permafrost in Siberia is a layer of icy soil just a few inches that below the surface that stays permanently frozen. During the summer months, the top few inches of soil may melt, but the incredibly cold temperatures and nearby glaciers keep most things frozen. However, the steadily increasing temperatures means that the melting layer of the Siberian permafrost gets deeper every year. Woolly mammoth bones in the Siberian permafrost are then much easier for hunters to find – and much more easily turned into fast money.

Siberian woolly mammoths provide income

The teeth, tusks, and bones of woolly mammoths can all be sold to various buyers. Since the 1980’s, various bans on elephant ivory have made the material very valuable. Woolly mammoth ivory, found in the teeth and tusks, can be sold for high prices. The bones are often shipped off to many places. Universities, museums, and collectors will pay top dollar for smooth, woolly mammoth bones from the Siberian permafrost. Less perfect examples that are wrenched from the  permafrost are sent to carving factories around the world.

The history of woolly mammoth trade in Siberia

As the Los Angeles Times points out, “Wealthy Chinese imported the bones in the 1st century, and when the first Russians arrived in the far reaches of Siberia in the 17th century, they traded bones along with furs.” The history of trading the bones of woolly mammoths goes back very far, and for good reason – the Siberian permafrost is able to preserve the bones and even meat of these animals incredibly well.

Siberian permafrost unearthing income

The price of these woolly mammoth relics has been steadily decreasing as international bans on ivory are being loosened. However, the increased availability of this income source have turned many farmers into woolly mammoth hunters. By searching for and finding bones, those that make a living on the Siberian permafrost are now making extra cash by becoming “mamontit” – those that hunt mammoths.

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