Category Archives: RUSSIA

World Oldest DNA Discovered in 1.2 Million Year Old Mammoth Teeth

World Oldest DNA Discovered in 1.2 Million Year Old Mammoth Teeth

As part of a study that uncovers new information about extinct animals, scientists have discovered the oldest DNA on record, extracting it from the molars of mammoths that roamed northeastern Siberia up to 1.2 million years ago 

Scientists announced on Wednesday that they have successfully retrieved and sequenced DNA from three different mammoths— elephant cousins that were among the large mammals that dominated Ice Age landscapes — entombed in permafrost conditions conducive to the preservation of ancient genetic material.

While the remains were discovered starting in the 1970s, new scientific methods were needed to extract the DNA.

An artist’s reconstruction shows the extinct steppe mammoth, an evolutionary predecessor to the woolly mammoth that flourished during the last Ice Age.

The oldest of the three, discovered near the Krestovka river, was approximately 1.2 million years old. Another, from near the Adycha river, was approximately 1 to 1.2 million years old. The third, from near the Chukochya river, was roughly700,000 years old.

“This is by a wide margin the oldest DNA ever recovered,” said evolutionary geneticist Love Dalén of the Centre for Palaeogenetics in Sweden, who led the research published in the journal Nature.

Until now, the oldest DNA came from a horse that lived in Canada’s Yukon territory about 700,000 years ago. By way of comparison, our species, Homo sapiens, first appeared roughly 300,000 years ago.

DNA is the self-replicating material that carries genetic information in living organisms — sort of a blueprint of life. “This DNA was extremely degraded into very small pieces, and so we had to sequence many billions of ultra-short DNA sequences in order to puzzle these genomes together,” Dalén said.

Most knowledge about prehistoric creatures comes from studying skeletal fossils, but there is a limit to what these can tell about an organism, particularly relating to genetic relationships and traits.

Ancient DNA can help fill in the blanks but is highly perishable. Sophisticated new research techniques are enabling scientists to recover ever-older DNA.

“It would be a wild guess, but a maximum of two to three million years should be doable,” Dalén said.

That could shed light on some bygone species but would leave many others unattainable — including the dinosaurs, who went extinct 66 million years ago.

World Oldest DNA Discovered in 1.2 Million Year Old Mammoth Teeth
Palaeontologists Love Dalén and Patricia Pecnerova with a mammoth tusk on Wrangel Island, Arctic Ocean.

“When we can get DNA on a million-year time scale, we can study the process of speciation (formation of new species) in a much more detailed way. Morphological analyses on bones and teeth usually only allow researchers to study a handful of characteristics in the fossils, whereas with genomics we are analysing many tens of thousands of characteristics,” Dalén said.

The researchers gained insights into mammoth evolution and migration by comparing the DNA to that of mammoths that lived more recently. The last mammoths disappeared roughly 4,000 years ago.

The oldest of the three specimens, the Krestovka mammoth, belonged to a previously unknown genetic lineage that more than 2 million years ago diverged from the lineage that led to the well-known woolly mammoth.

Geneticist Tom van der Valk of SciLife Lab in Sweden, the study’s first author, said it appears that members of the Krestovka lineage were the first mammoths to migrate from Siberia into North America over a now-disappeared land bridge about 1.5 million years ago, with woolly mammoths later migrating about 400,000 to 500,000 years ago.

The Adycha mammoth’s lineage apparently was ancestral to the woolly mammoth, they found, and the Chukochya individual is one of the oldest-known woolly mammoth specimens.

DNA analyses showed that genetic variants associated with enduring frigid climes such as hair growth, thermoregulation, fat deposits, cold tolerance and circadian rhythms were present long before the origin of the woolly mammoth.

Scientists may have found one of the oldest Christian churches in the world

Scientists may have found one of the oldest Christian churches in the world

Using a celestial phenomenon, archaeologists are probing a mysterious structure buried deep underground in Russia. The structure could be one of the world’s oldest Christian churches, according to a new study.

The unknown structure sits in the northwestern part of the fortress of Naryn-Kala, a fortification in Derbent that dates to around A.D. 300.

The 36-foot-deep (11 meters) cross-shaped structure is almost completely hidden underground, save for a bit of a half-destroyed dome on top. But because it’s a UNESCO cultural heritage site, the structure is protected and can’t be excavated — and its function remains largely debated. 

Scientists may have found one of the oldest Christian churches in the world
An unknown structure in the northwestern part of the fortress of Naryn-Kala could be one of the world’s oldest churches.

The structure may have served as a reservoir, a Christian church or a Zoroastrian fire temple, according to a statement from the MISIS National University of Science and Technology in Russia.

So, a group of researchers decided to harness a celestial phenomenon called cosmic rays to help them paint a picture of the structure, similar to how a group discovered a possible void in the Great Pyramid of Giza back in 2017. They call this method “muon radiography.”

Cosmic rays are a form of high-energy radiation that comes from an unknown source outside our solar system; they constantly rain down on Earth.

Though most of the rays crash into atoms in our planet’s upper atmosphere and don’t make it to the ground, some, called muon particles, are ejected from this collision and do hit Earth’s surface.

Muons travel through matter at nearly the speed of light. But as they travel through denser objects, they lose energy and decay. So, by calculating the number of muons travelling through various parts underground, researchers can paint a picture of an object’s density.

But for this method to work, the structure and the surrounding soil need to have at least a 5% difference in density, according to the study.

The researchers placed muon detectors about 33 feet (10 m) inside the mysterious structure and took measurements for two months. They found that the structure and surrounding soil do have enough of a density difference such that they could use this method to figure out the structure’s 3D shape.

3D-model of the underground room, obtained from the results of muon detection.
The fortress of Naryn-Kala in Derbent, Russia, dates back to around A.D. 300

The researchers don’t think the structure is an underground water tank, even though many historical sources refer to it as such. Rather, it might have been used for water storage in the 17th and 18th centuries, according to the statement.

“It seems very strange to me to interpret this building as a water tank,” co-author Natalia Polukhina, a physicist at the MISIS National University of Science and Technology, said in the statement. In the same fortress, scientists have identified another underground structure that really is a tank and is rectangular, she said. What’s more, during construction, the structure wasn’t buried but on the surface and was erected on the highest point of the fortress.

“What is the sense to put the tank on the surface, and even on the highest mountain?” she asked. “Currently, there are more questions than answers.”

This study wasn’t about making a new discovery but rather confirming that the method would reveal what the structure looked like. Next, the researchers hope to conduct an even more detailed analysis to create a full 3D image of the building, ultimately helping them to understand its purpose.

“The technique is very nice,” said Christopher Morris, a fellow of the Los Alamos National Laboratory who was not a part of the study. But “the only access [to the structure] seems to be from the void in the centre.” So they can only reconstruct it using data taken from a limited point of view, he added.

“I believe it is possible to reconstruct the buried structure,” if the group implements more detectors and gathers better data, Morris told Live Science. But “I do not know if this can reveal whether the structure is a church.”

Elk Teeth Offer Clues to Prehistoric Clothing in Russia

Elk Teeth Offer Clues to Prehistoric Clothing in Russia

According to a statement released by the University of Helsinki, archaeologist Kristiina Mannermaa and her colleagues analyzed more than 4,000 elk incisors recovered from 8,200-year-old graves on an island in northwestern Russia’s Lake Onega.

Many of the graves contain an abundance of objects and red ochre, signifying the wish to ensure the comfort of the buried also after death.

Pendants made of elk incisors were apparently attached to clothing and accessories, such as dresses, coats, cloaks, headdresses, and belts. Although no clothing material has been preserved, the location of the elk teeth sheds light on the possible type of these outfits.

Elk teeth, thousands of them, were used by the YOO people to make their unique elk teeth pendants.

A people of grooved elk tooth pendants

A study headed by archaeologist Kristiina Mannermaa aimed to determine who the people buried in outfits decorated with elk tooth ornaments were, and what the pendants meant to them.

The study analyzed the manufacturing technique of a total of more than 4,000 tooth ornaments or the way in which the teeth had been processed for attachment or suspension.

Elk Teeth Offer Clues to Prehistoric Clothing in Russia
Stone Age People’s Fascination With Elk Teeth Pendants Examined

The results were surprising, as practically all of the teeth had been processed identically by making one or more small grooves at the tip of the root, which made tying the pendants easier.

Only in two instances had a small hole been made in the tooth for threading, both of which were found in the grave of the same woman.

The tooth pendants found in graves located in the Baltic area and Scandinavia from the same period as the Yuzhniy Oleniy Ostrov graves are almost exclusively perforated. Perforation is the surest way of fastening the pendant, but making holes in the narrow tip of a tooth is more laborious than grooving.

The oldest artifact ever found in Eurasia is an elk tooth pendant. It was discovered in the Altai region of Russia in an Denisovan cave.

Archaeological and ethnographic research has shown that humans have been using decorations almost always and everywhere in the world, for several different purposes. To many indigenous peoples in Eurasia, including the Sámi communities, decorations have been and still are an important way of describing a person’s identity and origin.

They are not only aesthetic details but also connected to inter-community communication and the strengthening of intracommunity uniformity.

External elements such as ornaments can also influence the names which neighbouring groups use to refer to a community. In fact, Kristiina Mannermaa calls the people found in the burial site the people of grooved elk tooth pendants.

“Even though there are pendants made of beaver and bear teeth in the graves, the share of elk teeth in them is overwhelming,” Mannermaa says.

The highest number of elk teeth were found in the graves of young adult women and men, the lowest in those of children and elderly people. In other words, elk tooth ornaments were in one way or another linked to age, possibly specifically to the peak reproductive years.

Elk was the most important animal in the ideology and beliefs of the prehistorical hunter-gatherers of the Eurasian forest zone, and their limited availability made elk teeth a valuable material to ancient hunters.

Elks were not brought down very often, and not all members of the community contributed to hunting. It may be that a single individual was given all of the incisors of a caught elk.

Elks have a total of eight incisors, six permanent ones in the lower jaw, and two permanent canines in the shape of incisors. At times, corresponding deciduous teeth were also processed into ornaments.

The largest ornaments required the teeth of at least 8 to 18 elks.

The study was published in the Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences series. In addition to Mannermaa, Riitta Rainio from the University of Helsinki as well as Evgeniy Yurievich Girya, and Dmitriy Gerasimov from Peter the Great’s Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography contributed to the study.

Prehistoric people developed a technique for making a play dough-like material from mammoth ivory

Prehistoric people developed a technique for making a play dough-like material from mammoth ivory

It is stated in The Siberian Times that Evgeny Artemyev of the Russian Academy of Sciences has studied 12,000-year-old archaeological objects that have been found some 20 years ago at the Afontova Gora-2 archaeological site, which is situated on the banks of the Yenisei River in south-central Siberia.

The items include objects made from the spongey parts of woolly mammoth bones.

The finds were made in early 2000 but were re-examined recently by Dr Evgeny Artemyev who said that the figurines can be either Ice Age toys made by people who populated this area of the modern-day Siberia, or a form of primaeval art. 

‘When you look at them at different angles, they resemble different types of animals. 

‘It is possible that this is the new form of Palaeolithic art, that the international scientific community is not aware of yet’, the archaeologist said. 

The two prehistoric figurines appear similar to a bear and a mammoth, says Dr Artemyev, who has worked at the site since the 1990s. 

Looked at from another angle, one of the figurines maybe a sleeping human.

The ivory bars, some of them phallic-shaped, discovered at the same site were created with a technique which made them almost ‘fluid-like’. 

‘The mammoth tusk was softened to the extent that it resembled modern-day playdough. We don’t know yet how ancient people achieved that’, Dr Artemyev said. 

‘On the items, we can see traces of stone implements and the flows of the substance before it stiffened. This means that the tusk was softened significantly, the consistency was viscous. 

‘Most likely it was not for the entire tusk, but its upper part which was processed’, explained Artemyev. 

Dr Evgeny Artemyev and Afontova Gora-2 archeological site in Krasnoyarsk.

The archaeologist said that he didn’t come across similar finds on other Palaeolithic sites.

‘Perhaps we don’t get to see reports about such finds because scientific teams rarely publish about items that can’t be properly explained. These elongated ivory bars could be blanks prepared to make making implements, or tools, or future toys – or anything else, we can only guess’, Dr Artemyev said. 

While scientists can’t yet fathom why these shapes were made, the ‘playdough’ crafting technique helps them realise that these ancient people had much greater skills than they have imagined.

‘We tend to think of them as more primitive than they were. Yet they had technologies we cannot properly understand and describe, such as this softening of the tusks’, the archaeologist said. 

Scientists uncover 20,000-year-old Ice Age woolly rhino in Russia

Scientists uncover 20,000-year-old Ice Age woolly rhino in Russia

During a search in Russia’s permafrost, an animal dating back at least 20,000 years was discovered and it is over 80% preserved and straight-up wild to see. The woolly rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis) was once a common species throughout Europe and Northern Asia.

On average, they were between 9.8 to 12.5 ft from head to tail and would weigh between 4,000 and 6,000 pounds once fully grown. Their closest living genetic relative is the Sumatran rhinoceros but looking at a picture of them they almost appear as if a unicorn made babies with an American buffalo.

These Wooly Rhinos had two horns, one big and one small(er). The bigger horn would measure up to 4.6 feet and the horn itself would weigh over 33 pounds.

As you can tell, I’m learning all of this on the fly because I’ve only ever heard of this species once before today. It’s not like this is one of those animals they taught us about in elementary school.

Well, according to the Siberian Times, archaeologists found a juvenile (estimate 3 to 5 years old) wooly rhino ‘in permafrost deposits by river Tirekhtyakh in the Abyisky ulus (district) of the Republic of Sakha.’ I did a quick search on Google Maps of that location and it’s in eastern Russia almost straight north of North Korea.

It is a little grizzly. After all, it’s a 20,000+ year old animal and not a newborn bunny. But it’s crazy to see how intact it is:

Scientists uncover 20,000-year-old Ice Age woolly rhino in Russia
It is the best preserved to date juvenile woolly rhino ever found in Yakutia, with a lot of its internal organs – including its teeth, part of the intestines, a lump of fat and tissues – kept intact for thousands of years in permafrost

The juvenile rhino with thick hazel-colored hair and the horn, found next to the carcass was discovered in the middle of August in permafrost deposits by river Tirekhtyakh in the Abyisky ulus (district) of the Republic of Sakha.

The sensational discovery is still in the Arctic Yakutia waiting for ice roads to form so that it can be delivered to scientists in the republic’s capital Yakutsk.

It is the best-preserved to date juvenile woolly rhino ever found in Yakutia, with a lot of its internal organs – including its teeth, part of the intestines, a lump of fat and tissues – kept intact for thousands of years in permafrost.

‘The young rhino was between three and four years old and lived separately from its mother when it died, most likely by drowning’, said Dr. Valery Plotnikov from the Academy of Sciences who has been to the discovery site and made the first description of the find.

‘The gender of the animal is still unknown. We are waiting for the radiocarbon analyses to define when it lived, the most likely range of dates is between 20,000 and 50,000 years ago.

The rhino has a very thick short underfur, very likely it died in summer’, Dr. Plotnikov said. (via Siberian Times)

It’s absolutely wild that its last meal was intact in its stomach too. They are waiting on analysis of the contents from the rhino’s stomach and internal organs to try and determine what exactly it was eating.

Despite its awesome horns that I would’ve assumed was for picking up monkeys out of trees, the woolly rhinoceros primarily ate grass and sedges. Due to their massive sizes, they had to eat A LOT of grass to sustain themselves which wasn’t exactly easy during an ice age.

To read more about this fascinating discovery, you can head on over to the Siberian Times which has a lot of information about this discovery along with a few other rare discoveries from this year including two extinct cave lion cubs.

Frozen Bird Found in Siberia is 46,000 years old

Frozen Bird Found in Siberia is 46,000 years old

For the past 46,000 years, a small bird that perished in the last ice age was frozen, protected from deterioration and scavenger until the body in Siberian permafrost was found by two Russians searching for fossil mammoth tusks.

Love Dalén, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Centre for Palaeogenetics in Stockholm, who was with the ivory hunters, Boris Berezhnov and Spartak Khabrov, when they spotted the bird, said that the bird was in such fine condition that it seemed “like it had] died just a few days ago,”

Dalén told Live Science in an email. “The bird is in pristine condition,” The discovery is remarkable, as “small animals like this would normally disintegrate very quickly after death due to scavengers and microbial activity.”

The frozen flier is a one-of-a-kind find, too: It’s the only near-intact bird carcass documented from the last ice age, Dalén added.

When the fossil hunters first uncovered the bird in September 2018, Dalén and his colleagues had no idea of the mystery bird’s age or species. So, Dalén “collected a couple of feathers and a small piece of tissue for radiocarbon dating and DNA sequencing,” he said.

The 46,000-year-old bird’s delicate feet are still in good shape.

He brought the ice age samples to his lab, where postdoctoral researcher Nicolas Dussex, the lead author of a new study on the bird, analyzed the remains.

Radiocarbon dating revealed that the bird lived during the same time as other ice age beasts, including mammoths, horses, woolly rhinos, bison, and lynx.

To discover the bird’s species, the researchers sequenced its mitochondrial DNA, genetic data that is passed down through the maternal line.

Although the bird’s mitochondrial DNA was fragmentary — there were “many millions of short DNA sequences,” Dalén said, a common occurrence in ancient specimens — the team was able to piece together these short sequences with the help of a computer program.

Then, the scientists took the finished mitochondrial DNA puzzle and searched for a match in an online database that has the genetic sequences of nearly every bird alive today. The results revealed that the ice age bird was a female horned lark (Eremophila alpestris).

This discovery sheds light on the transformation of the so-called mammoth steppe. When this bird was alive, the land was a mix of steppe (unforested grassland) and tundra (treeless, frozen ground), according to pollen records from 50,000 to 30,000 years ago.

When the last ice age ended about 11,700 years ago, the mammoth steppe transitioned into the three main Eurasian environments that exist today: the northern tundra, the taiga (a coniferous forest) in the middle, and the steppe in the south said Dalén, the senior researcher on the new study.

Nowadays, there are two subspecies of horned lark: “one living on the tundra in the far north of Eurasia and the other in the steppe in the south, in Mongolia and its neighboring countries,” Dalén said.

The horned lark (Eremophila alpestris), also known as the shore lark in Europe, is a small songbird that breeds across the northern hemisphere. It has 42 formally recognized subspecies that are divided into six different clades, each of which could warrant reclassification into distinct species clusters.

It appears that the newly discovered bird is an “ancestor of two different subspecies of the horned lark,” he said. As the environment changed, however, the horned lark diverged into the two evolutionary lineages that exist today, Dalén said.

“So all in all, this study provides an example of how climate change at the end of the last ice age could have led to the formation of new subspecies,” he said.

Eerie train graveyard gives a glimpse into the golden age of Soviet steam trains

Eerie train graveyard gives a glimpse into the golden age of Soviet steam trains

In Russia’s central Perm region, near the village of Shumkovo, a cemetery lies on the sidetrack. Instead of tombs and headstones, it is filled with trains from the 20th century.

There are dozens of steam locomotives, the oldest dating back to 1936 and the youngest from 1956. They sit on rusty rails, in the middle of overgrown vegetation.

During the Soviet era, the location served as a backup railway base in case of nuclear war. At that time, around 140 locomotives were docked there. But, as electric power replaced steam, these reserve trains hit the end of the line.

As railway authorities waned, maintenance work on the locomotives eventually came to a complete halt, leaving the way for rust.

Many of the trains have bought and taken away by Chinese owners. Others have been restored to become exhibits at museums and memorials.

Grigoriy Gordeyev has managed the place for 30 years and resists calls to have the locomotives scrapped down for metal.

“You can see for yourself how they (the locomotives) are living out their lives, just standing there,” he says.

“People are interested, they come here, take photos, observe. It’s our history after all.”

Visitor and photographer Alexander Osipov, also believes that the trains take you on a trip back in time.

“It’s like you go several decades into the past, especially when you get inside a steam train. There are all these levers, which someone touched, you get this feeling. You really feel that there are fascists and the Red Army are running just outside the window. It is all really very interesting,” he says.

According to museum manager Alexander Yemelyanov, Russian steam locomotives dating to early 20th century are a rarity nowadays.

“Trains were mass-produced technology and the attitude towards them was neither reverent nor very serious. They were sent to be melted for disposal. And unfortunately, many types of locomotives at the beginning of the 20th century were not preserved,” he explains.

Holding hands for 5,000 years, a couple with mysterious jade rings and dagger

Holding hands for 5,000 years, a couple with mysterious jade rings and dagger

An elderly couple who have held hands for the last five thousand years were revealed by archaeologists in a Bronze Age grave. The skeletons, thought an ancient dignitary and his wife or lover, were uncovered at a burial site overlooking Baikal lake in Siberia.

The elderly couple have been holding hands for the past 5,000 years

They were found decorated with unusual rings made of rare white jade, one of which was placed above the man eye socket. It is thought that the couple is from the ancient Bronze Age ‘Glazkov Culture,’ the oldest and deepest lake in the world that lived around Baikal.

Intriguingly, Russian scientists have not yet revealed details of a ‘metal implement’ discovered inside a leather pouch placed between the man’s kneecaps.

The skeletons are believed to be an ancient dignitary and his wife or lover

Three jade rings were found placed on the male’s chest, while a 20-inch jade dagger, made from the same rare stone, was also unearthed inside the grave.

Archaeologist Dr Dmitry Kichigin, of Irkutsk National Research Technical University, said the rings were ‘somehow connected’ with the pair’s ‘ideas about the afterlife’.

They were found decorated with unusual rings made from rare white jade

“In the grave we found male and female skeletons, lying on their backs, heads to the west, hand in hand,” he said.

“It would be very interesting to find out the purposes of the massive jade knife, which we found near the woman, was used for.

“We also found some metal implement in a small leather bag between male’s kneecaps.”

Pendants of red deer and musk deer teeth were found on the man’s skull, and around the feet.

But while the male skeleton is complete, rodents have destroyed the upper part of the female.

While the male skeleton is complete, rodents have destroyed the upper part of the female

Dr Kichigin said he believed the couple could be ‘an owner and his concubine’.

The burial site near the lake is at a ‘sacred place for ancient people’, where Neolithic remains were also discovered.

The couple are thought to be from the ancient Bronze Age ‘Glazkov Culture’

The precise location is being kept secret to avoid it being ransacked by treasure hunters.

“We can expect a lot of interesting discoveries on this archaeological site, so we plan to continue our work next year,” Dr Kichigin told The Siberian Times.