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Mystery Solved

Baby mammoths died traumatic deaths

CT scans reveal mud in windpipe and lungs

11:00am, July 14, 2014

UNTIMELY DEMISE  This well-preserved woolly mammoth baby, nicknamed Lyuba, probably suffocated after sucking mud into her lungs, CT scans suggest.

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More than 45,000 years ago in the Siberian Arctic, a baby woolly mammoth, now known as Khroma, may have plunged to her death from a riverbank into a pit of quicksand. New CT scans of her mummified body reveal a broken back and globs of mud in her windpipe, giving researchers new clues about her demise.

Paleobiologist Daniel Fisher of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and colleagues also devised a way to fully scan Lyuba, a newborn mammoth about the size of a Great Dane. The researchers used a Ford Motor Company scanner — designed for checking car parts — to image Lyuba, who probably also died by suffocation.

Microscans of Lyuba and Khroma’s teeth let researchers pinpoint the animals’ ages at death. The infants were around one and two months old, respectively, the team reports July 8 in the Journal of Paleontology, and still held milk in their bellies.

An animation shows a rotating view of Lyuba’s outer surface. Credit: University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology

An animation of CT images shows a rotating view of Lyuba’s skeleton. Credit: University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology


D.C. Fisher et al. X-ray computed tomography of two mammoth calf mummies. Journal of Paleontology. Published online July 8, 2014. doi: 10.1666/13-092.

Further Reading

T.H. Saey. When flowers died out in arctic, so did mammoths. Science News. Vol. 185, March 22, 2014, p. 13

B. Bower. Ancient Siberians may have rarely hunted mammoths.Science News Vol. 184, July 27, 2013, p. 10.

A. Yeager. A mammoth divideScience News Vol. 174, July 5, 2008, p. 12.

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