How not to clone a woolly mammoth

I watched part of a thing on the Smithsonian Channel last night about the excavation of an unusually near-intact woolly mammoth in Siberia. It’s interesting.

At the beginning where they showed the excavation and what a lot of the mammoth there was, we got lots of shots of all the exciting bits there were. At one point there was excited exclamation about the freshness of the meat (which sounded odd – I’d expect “tissue” rather than “meat”), and we got to see a bit of mammoth flesh (or “meat”) that was pink instead of grey or ice-color. Then another guy showed us another, bigger bit, and he moved it back and forth a little, and then…he took a bite of it.

I laughed uncontrollably for at least ten minutes; it was eye-mopping and breath-depleting and like running up a hill.


Since when do people snack on the 40,000-year-old carcasses they’re excavating? I thought they were doing sciencey research, not digging up lunch.

One of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen, I swear.


  1. says

    Damn. What was he thinking? Given my extensive education gleaned from watching dodgy B-movies and overcooked SFX-heavy summer blockbusters, I think we can safely assume this is going to get messy. Current likeliest scenarios following from the consumption of aeons-old elephant flesh, as I understand them, are:

    1) Terrifying pandemic, in which civilisation teeters on the brink of collapse, until the obligatory crazy-haired Renegade Scientist comes up with an even less plausible cure, this introduced with the crucial phrase ‘it’s just crazy enough to work’…

    2) The hapless researcher, on retiring to his tent, discovers he has acquired the awesome powers of a prehistoric pachyderm, has a Lycra costume made, and devotes his evenings to ridding the world of crime… only to discover that the powers he has acquired mostly involve the ability to subsist on grazed grass, a superior memory for faces, and the ability to sleep standing up.

  2. themadtapper says

    Putting aside the bizarrity (that’s a word, right?) of eating ancient meat right off the corpse, and the potential danger of a previously frozen bacteria thawing out and having a party in your woefully unprepared digestive system…

    Who the hell suddenly thinks it’s a good idea to waste part of such an incredible specimen by taking a fucking bite out of it?

  3. RJW says

    I’ve read reports mentioning that people in Siberia have fed mammoth meat to their dogs with apparently no ill effects, perhaps they’ve occasionally had a nibble, it’s tough in Siberia.

    He probably wouldn’t need a costume since he would have grown a coat about a foot thick.

  4. Blanche Quizno says

    In 1982, I was in college the first time, taking a class called “Geography of Human Survival.” It was all about how people have adapted and the various things they have developed in order to live in all the different (and difficult) places and climates where people are found. At one point, we were talking about the Arctic or something, how sometimes a mammoth carcass will be found when the permafrost or a glacier melts, and the professor showed us an artist’s rendering of a woolly mammoth that had been eating flowers and was falling into a crevasse. “Look,” he said, gesturing with his pointer, “you can see how terrified it was – we can see the whites of its eyes!” He then remarked that those who had found that one described the meat as “perfectly preserved” – they even cut steaks off to feed to their dogs! And he laughed about how dogs will eat just about anything.

    This was right on the heels of Chariots of the Gods, and there were those who were claiming some sort of supernatural phenomenon was required to explain how a woolly mammoth carcass could be frozen for tens of thousands of years and remain “fresh enough to eat”. In fact, these claims about such carcasses are used by Young Earth Creationists to claim that, well, you know. Not old, but, rather, recent. But *I* certainly wouldn’t eat any of it!

  5. says

    Who the hell suddenly thinks it’s a good idea to waste part of such an incredible specimen by taking a fucking bite out of it?

    Well exactly. That’s most of why I found it so lung-emptyingly funny. It was so unexpected, so absurd, and so WHO DOES THAT? There we are being all educational and researchy and look what we found and then suddenly MUNCH.

  6. wsierichs says

    I have a vague memory of reading, long ago, about how some U.S. historian (early paleontologists?) or explorer society had cooked mammoth steaks at a society annual dinner. Again, vaguely, think it was early part of 20th century and Westerners had just recently learned about the existence of frozen/thawing woolly mammoths in Siberia.
    As for the guy who sampled one of Fred Flintstone’s favorite dishes (when he wasn’t eating Brontosaurus burgers; and yes I know it’s now officially a wimpy name like Apatosaurus (sp?), which sounds like something served with dinner — “Would you like a pat of saurus on your potato?”), if he was an experienced researcher who’d dug up mammoths before, it’s possible he knew when/if it was safe to sample a bit of raw extinct elephant. I wouldn’t, not just because of ancient bacteria but because you don’t know about the modern ones that might be at work in thawing mammoth. But if he really was an expert in this field, he might well have a good idea of when it would be reasonably safe.
    Still ….

  7. Arctic Ape says

    Here’s a famous example of “paleo” food:

    Blue Babe is the mummy of a 36,000-year-old male steppe bison which was discovered north of Fairbanks, Alaska, in July 1979.[9] The mummy was noticed by a gold miner who named the mummy Blue Babe – “Babe” for Paul Bunyan’s mythical ox, and blue because of the coating of vivianite, a blue iron phosphate, that covered much of the specimen.[10] Blue Babe is also frequently referenced when talking about scientists eating their own specimens: the research team that was preparing it for permanent display in the University of Alaska Museum removed a portion of the mummy’s neck, stewed it, and dined on it to celebrate the accomplishment. [11]

    (note: One of the dinner guests was Finnish paleontologist Björn Kurten. He mentioned in one of his essays that the meat tasted like earth or mushrooms.)

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