Two CT-scanned Siberian mammoth calves yield trove of insights


CT scans of two newborn woolly mammoths recovered from the Siberian Arctic are revealing previously inaccessible details about the early development of prehistoric pachyderms.

In addition, the X-ray images show that both creatures died from suffocation after inhaling mud.

Lyuba and Khroma, who died at ages 1 and 2 months, respectively, are the most complete and best-preserved baby mammoth specimens ever found. Lyuba’s full-body CT scan, which used an industrial scanner at a Ford testing facility in Michigan, was the first of its kind for any mammoth.

“This is the first time anyone’s been able to do a comparative study of the skeletal development of two baby mammoths of known age,” said Daniel Fisher, Claude W. Hibbard Collegiate Professor of Paleontology, professor of earth and environmental sciences, and ecology and evolutionary biology.

“This allowed us to document the changes that occur as the mammoth body develops,” Fisher said. “And since they are both essentially complete skeletons, they can be thought of as Rosetta Stones that will help us interpret all the isolated baby mammoth bones that show up at other localities.”

Fisher, director of the Museum of Paleontology, is lead author of a paper published July 8 in a special issue of the Journal of Paleontology. The paper provides a detailed discussion of the findings from the Lyuba and Khroma CT scans and includes about 30 previously unpublished CT images.

The paper’s 10 authors are from the United States, Russia and France. They include three recent U-M graduates and a collections manager at the U-M paleontology museum.


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