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Mammoth on the Menu

I’m somewhat skeptical of some parts of genetic science, in particular with regard to cloning, and more specifically, the cloning of extinct animals. (long extinct, not recently so.) I know in theory there is no reason why we shouldn’t be able to clone dinosaurs and honest politicians, the issue being a lack of viable DNA from sources so old, and my understanding is also that woolly mammoths may actually provide “fresh” (in a sense) enough DNA to allow their cloning. Where I am skeptical is whether or not it’s worth it to do so, and whether or not we are currently advanced enough to even permit a reasonable attempt.

Why I bring this up is because a scientist of dubious ability, intellect and honesty is working on a project to clone a mammoth, apparently in cahoots with a university in Russia. This is a the guy who falsified data about research he did with human stem cells back a few years ago. To be fair he did succeed in cloning the first dog, among other things.

As usual though, I’m more interested in the history of mammoths, rather then what they are planning on doing with the rotten remains being hauled from various icy locales right now.

It’s clear that we used to eat them and some estimates put mammoth extinction as recent as 3700 years ago, and since that is arrived at by our finding of remains and other evidence, probably even more recently (not much I’d wager, but I’ll present it as fact that the youngest evidence found is not from the last mammoth that existed). Call it 4000-3500 years ago, or 2000-1500 BC. While no menus survive from the restaurants that far back, there is ample evidence in the form of cave paintings, remains showing evidence of human processing, and most interestingly to me, literal piles of mammoths found at the base of cliffs, likely driven off by humans.

It is unknown when the last time humans ate the beasts, but given that we have found 40 or so of the monsters frozen and some of them well preserved enough that dogs in the area were documented to have started eating the specimens, I find it hard to believe no one has even tried. There just aren’t any well documented cases of people actually doing it.  Stories however do exist:

1. In parts of China it is said that a jerky-like food was occasionally found on “underground beasts”, but that was some 2000 years ago.

2. While not a mammoth, “Blue Babe” was a 35,000 year old Steppe Bison found in the last century, and part was indeed eaten. Didn’t kill anyone, because the finder survived to write a book about the find later on. I figure that since someone ventured to try that, it’s almost outside the realm of possibility that no one has dared to try much younger mammoth mummies. Check your local library for the book, it’s a good read.

3. There are lots of tales from Siberia and other such areas, of tribes who are superstitious about finding unearthed mammoths. It may be pure invented superstition, but I find  the idea that past bad experiences led to these beliefs more compelling. (this isn’t unlike like the monkey story, if you are former military you may know this one.)

(Michael Hawkins, you may want to file this story away and use it in a post at some point. I know how you hate rule internalization. One of my drill sergeants told me a version of that monkey story.)

Getting back to the mammoth cloning thing, I hope it works out and we start raising the beasts. I’d love to have a nice big mammoth steak. Or better yet, imagine roasting a whole mammoth over a fire. Yummy. I do want it to be fresh, not with 4500+ years of freezer burn, so I’ll wait until we hatch one.

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