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Publisher's Summary

It was a frosty, wintry September morning in 2012 when 11-year-old Yevgeny “Zhenya” Salinder donned his warmest quilted jacket, a knitted woolen cap, and matching mittens and headed out the door with his faithful, tail-wagging dogs in tow. 

Like most mornings, the kid ambled about near the Sopkarga polar weather station, an isolated region in the northern Russian Taymyr Peninsula where he resided, but this particular morning, his pace was slowed by a foul, almost eye-watering stench. 

Intrigued, Salinder and the dogs sniffed out the source of the strange miasma, and in the process, they stumbled upon a defrosted pair of heels from an unknown creature protruding from the cold earth.

When young Salinder relayed what he had found to his parents, they alerted the authorities, but initially, nobody had the slightest notion how profound the discovery was. The heels, as it turned out, were attached to the carcass of a 16-year-old woolly mammoth that perished some 30,000 years ago, almost completely intact. 

The mammoth, initially nicknamed “Zhenya” after its discoverer, was said to be the most significant discovery of a mammoth since 1901, and it is the second-best preserved of its kind that has ever been uncovered. Not only was its skeleton in near-pristine condition, it also bore one of its tusks, a mass of skin, fat, meat, an eye, an ear, and many of its organs. It was this stunning find that allowed scientists to confirm the purpose of the “humps” found on the backs of these creatures, which were extra compartments of insulatory fat.

By the time Zhenya made the discovery, people had been quite familiar with the extinct giants for many years, and people across the world have seen models and depictions of them to go along with the fossils. 

Since Georges Cuvier recognized the specimens as an extinct elephant species near the end of the 18th century, various finds of mammoth fossils, particularly in places where they were well preserved in the cold, have made the woolly mammoth perhaps the most popular extinct animal outside of the dinosaurs. 

Standing around 10 feet tall and weighing several tons, woolly mammoths seem like the stuff of legend, but ancient cave art indicated that unlike dinosaurs, woolly mammoths were contemporaries of early humans, with the last ones going extinct only about 4,000 years ago. All of that explains why people have long been fascinated by woolly mammoths and have even envisioned bringing them back to life via genetics sometime in the future.

Woolly Mammoths: The History and Legacy of the Most Famous Extinct Elephant Species looks at the geological origins of the area and analyzes the fossil finds from the tar.

©2019 Charles River Editors (P)2020 Charles River Editors

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