Baby Mammoth Mummy: frozen in time!: a prehistoric animal’s journey into the 21st century by Christopher Sloan (569.67 SlB 2011) is a fascinating read. It had been recommended by the blog Nonfiction Detectives a few months back and I’m glad I followed up. It will very likely become one of those books kids will glom onto because of its high appeal.
It starts in the high north of Siberia not far from the North Pole. Nomadic reindeer herders (the Nenets) often discover the frozen remains of prehistoric animals and in this case, they found the frozen body of a tiny (only 33 inches tall) mammoth. After its initial discovery, the body disappeared, causing a bit of palaver with authorities and scientists. A well preserved body of a mammoth could be significant in learning what contributed to the extinction of mammoths. Eventually, the frozen body was recovered from a local merchant who had traded with a Nenet herder, both recognizing the monetary value of such a find.
Once scientists recovered the baby mammoth (now known as Lyuba) the book leads us through the intensive analysis that the cadaver underwent. Questions such as when did she live? (approximately 42,000 years ago), what did she die from? (most likely suffocated in mud), what caused deformation in her head? (a vacuum created by the mud as it was sucked from her trunk into her air passages), how old was she? (about 32 days old determined by counting the layers of dentin forming the tusks), and what was the world like 42,000 years ago? (the third section of the book explorers this further). Unfortunately, Lyuba did not live at the time when mammoths were going extinct, so was unable to contribute to this research.
There are a few side bars and double page spreads that detail scientific concepts (carbon dating for example) or provide timelines, maps or overviews of a specific topic (the relationship between today’s elephants and other species of Proboscidea including mammoths, mastodons and others). I think the information is detailed enough to offer students in grades 4 to 8 some understanding of the science involved, without being overwhelming. A glossary is included to help with terms that may be unfamiliar. Lots of photographs and illustrations are included to help us get to know Lyuba and the research she was involved in.
Like I said, this is a fascinating read.