Rock & Gem



The cover story of the August 13, 2021, issue of the journal Science focuses on the tusk of a male woolly mammoth that died during the last Ice Age north of the Arctic Circle in Alaska. The 7.9-foot tusk, collected in 2010 and deposited in the University of Alaska Museum of the North (UAMN), has been sliced and diced and analyzed across no less than 340,000 microscopi­c data points to match isotopes of strontium and oxygen contained within its layers to isotopic maps of such minerals all across Alaska. Pat Druckenmil­ler (director of UAMN) compares the effort to reading “a diary…written in their tusks.” The tip shows the day this bull was born while the base shows the day it died, with nitrogen signatures indicating starvation at the end of life. Kate Britton (University of Aberdeen, UK) calls this “an ‘iso-biography’ for a single individual.” Some scientists would dearly like to slice open and conduct isobiograp­hies of still more tusks contained within museum collection­s, which leaves museum curators nervous about using so-called “destructiv­e sampling techniques” on their prized possession­s even in light of the scientific value that could be revealed by cutting a few fossil tusks. Study co-authors Matthew J. Wooller (University of Alaska Fairbanks) and Clement Bataille (University of Ottawa, Canada) say the results of this initial research show this particular mammoth “covered some serious ground” during its wanderings. It traversed nearly all parts of the current state of Alaska and northweste­rn Canada! The bull is estimated to have been 28 years old when it perished yet put in enough mileage during that time to circle the Earth two times over.

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