What if our last terra incognita, our last frontier, was ice ?
Mammuthus Expeditions is an expedition program dedicated to salvaging fossils that have lain encased in the Siberian permafrost for tens of thousands of years. Through studying this rare and fragile heritage we stand to learn much about our planet. In deciphering the fossils' secrets we gain valuable tools to advance several areas of major scientific investigation today, notably in the Environmental Sciences: climate change, the mechanisms of biodiversity, evolution of species and ecological shifts. The range of biodiversity at the end of the Pleistocene (including the mammoth, rhinoceros, horse, wolf and many other species) lies preserved in the frozen Arctic soil. The conservation of specimens is exceptional due to many factors unique to Siberia, including the extreme cold and geology of the region's soil. Operating in these remote regions requires specialized knowledge and experience.
A Nenet Camp, Yamal Peninsula
An encounter between explorer Bernard Buigues and Professor Yves Coppens fifteen years ago first gave rise to the idea for Mammuthus Expeditions. Combining passions for exploration and science with the heritage of this mythical polar region, the adventure to unveil the Siberian terra incognita was born. A Heritage in Peril Exploration and Science are today facing a new challenge - the fossils themselves are under threat. Climate change is affecting the natural equilibria of the tundra. The Arctic summers are lasting longer, accelerating the thawing of the permafrost as well as exposing the millennia-old relics to the ravages of the elements and human trafficking. The Mammuthus team is running in a race against the clock.
An adventure within the Arctic Circle
He has traversed the Great North for over twenty years. From his logistics base-camp in Khatanga on the Taimyr
The mythical northern lands of Siberia conceal unknown treasures
Peninsula inside the Arctic Circle, he began by organizing expeditions for others - adventurers and tourists - to the geographic North Pole. Since his encounter with the Jarkov Mammoth in 1997, he has dedicated his life to salvaging the treasures of the Siberian Arctic's permafrost. In 1998 he created the Mammuthus program with Professor Yves Coppens. Scientists around the world have responded to his efforts by joining the adventure.
Mammuthus emerged from the dream of adventure. Invigorated by the timeless quest of the unknown beyond that has spurred countless great voyagers, Bernard Buigues has for over twenty years continually sought out adventure in the Arctic. There he has found an explorer's dream: the unending promise of discovery. The world map, redrawn throughout the age of geographic exploration, now seems complete with input from high-fidelity satellite imagery. Remote regions once considered dangerously inhospitable are now accessible even to tourists. One would be forgiven for thinking that our planet has no more secrets. However, our knowledge of the planet is only skin-deep. Beneath the surface lurks a world of the unknown. >
Maria Pronchishcheva Bay, 1994
Franz Josef Land, 1993
North Sea, 2001
> To discover the treasures of the Siberian Arctic, patience is a must. The vastness of the landscape and the protean elements provide unending variation. The eyes never grow tired and the attentive visitor is rewarded with ephemeral glimpses of this timeless region. The Arctic winter brings an endless night to these lands. Summer is an explosion of life and a profusion of sunlight. The 24-hour sun coaxes the plants up from the ground. It also liberates relics of life from another age, sometimes as much as 50,000 years ago, from the thawing permafrost. These unique fossils hold the key to a bygone epoch.
To salvage these links with our past, the Mammuthus team has identified several zones across the Siberian North in which to concentrate activities. Stretching from the Ural Mountains in the West to the Bering Strait in the East, these zones have been picked for their paleontological promise and intriguing history. In the course of two decades in the Arctic, Bernard Buigues has accumulated invaluable experience in extreme conditions. He has also built a network spanning various administrations and local populations. These contacts, as well as the support of the Russian Academy
of Sciences, are essential for the continued success of Mammuthus. Experience. Logistics. Knowhow. Local Knowledge. Support. Passion. The Mammuthus team has the necessary tools to pursue their ambitious goal in this extreme environment.
In the decade since Jarkov's discovery, Mammuthus has been central to a multitude of discoveries ranging from spectacularly preserved specimens of megafauna to microorganisms. Each discovery provides important information about the paleo-biodiversity and ecological mechanics. Organisms that inhabited the ecological niche of the Siberian North were adapted to an extreme environment. The end of the Pleistocene, roughly 10,000 years ago, was marked by an upset in natural equilibria resulting in mass extinctions. The narrative of this cataclysmic change is contained in the fossil record. Large-scale natural phenomena left traces scat-
tered across the region. Climate change, biodiversity, the evolution of species and ecosystems are complex, interrelated systems that work over long periods of time. To better grasp the mechanics of these systems, studies tracking their effects over long periods are necessary. Although a painstaking process, it is possible to reconstruct this story bit by bit with the aid of advancing technology and critical analysis. The access to fossil specimens of superior preservation is complemented by our increasing ability to decipher their rich information.
Mammuthus realized its expedition objective for the first time on a Sunday evening in October 1999. On this date, the Jarkov Mammoth traversed the tundra for the first time in over 20,000 years. Still encased in a block of permafrost, Jarkov was airlifted 300 kilometers by the world's largest helicopter to the tarmac of Khatanga's airport. From there it was a short trip to the Mammuthus conservation cave. Jarkov's voyage captured the imagination of millions worldwide. The scientific interest would prove even greater. Specialists from diverse disciplines joined the quest to learn this time-traveler’s secrets. Today, the study of vestiges from the permafrost involves a wide range of research topics.
The range of disciplines implicated is testament to the wealth of information contained in each discovery. From molecular biology and population genomics to comparative studies of animal behavior and cultural anthropology, each fossil can offer many avenues of possible research. The last 50,000 years have seen severe changes in climate and biodiversity, the disappearance of some species and the successful adaptation of others. These are events that, when elucidated, will allow science to generate and test important hypotheses to advance our understanding of the natural world.
rare witness of his epoch
Analysis of Lyuba in Salekhard, November 2008
The Siberian winter lasts five months. Five months during which the Polar night covers the land in darkness, snow and ice. Access to the permafrost is denied until the summer thaw. The permafrost is the gatekeeper of the Arctic's Heritage. Mammoths, bison, woolly rhinoceroses, small carnivores, pollen grains, plants and traces of human activity are among the millenniaold treasures that the permafrost liberates from its frozen grasp every year. The real extent of their value lies in the information gained from examination and comparison of these vestiges. To the initiated, these represent both snapshots in time and pieces of a larger puzzle.
Legacy of an Extreme Environment
However, this enthusiasm is not shared by all. Wolves and foxes, equipped with an olfactory radar more sophisticated than any human means of detection, are often the first "discoverers" of preserved specimens surfacing from the thawing permafrost. These scavengers and their appetite are one example of competition for the permafrost's treasures. The trafficking of fossils and ivory is another. On top of this, the ever-present Arctic sun and whimsical elements threaten the integrity of a fossil's preserved information. The competition is tough for the Mammuthus team.
The Mammuthus Cave
Permafrost is permanently frozen soil characteristic of the northern latitudes. The top or "active layer", containing the last 50,000 years of natural history, thaws in summer. The permafrost tells a threefold story of the extreme environment of the Siberian Arctic.
First, it offers up clues – in the form of excellently preserved fossils – of what past ecosystems were like and what type of life thrived in them at various times. Secondly, it acts as a barometer for climate change as it is extremely sensitive to temperature increases and positive feedback. This is connected to the third story – the permafrost as an ecological niche of thriving microorganisms. The methane production from microorganisms in the permafrost is a pertinent area of high interest.
Dug 30 meters deep in the permafrost, this vast (800m2), naturally refrigerated (-13ºC) cave provides ideal conditions for the storage and conservation of fossils. Scientists from around the world regularly visit in order to collect samples to be analyzed in their own laboratories. The collection is a fragile reminder of the dwindling number of fossils offered up by the permafrost each year. The purpose of the Mammuthus Cave is to serve as a perennial resource for researchers and record of a disappearing past. As technologies continue to advance, more and more information within the fossils will become accessible. The sharing and dissemination of this information is a core tenet in the Mammuthus philosophy.
Traces of Time Forgotten
Fossils under threat
The warming of the Arctic region over the past decade is a double-edged sword for the protectors of its heritage. On one hand, the rate at which ancient relics are brought to the surface has greatly accelerated. On the other hand, this means that finite supply is more rapidly decreasing and that a greater number of these vestiges are exposed to the destructive forces of the elements each summer. Once they are lost their stories are lost for all time.
After more than 50,000 years in an icy prison, male baby mammoth Khroma was discovered in an exceptional state of preservation. As evidence of this, despite being the oldest baby mammoth found to date, his emergence from the permafrost quickly attracted polar foxes that made off with his trunk. Horses, elk, musk oxen, bison, wolves - Dozens of animals comprising the biodiversity of the Upper Pleistocene have been recovered and studied by the Mammuthus team. Many of these species that walked the planet with woolly mammoths have survived until the present day. Some did not. It is only though looking at the ensemble of life and the environment in which it lived across this time frame that we can hope to better understand the factors that dictated their survival or extinction. Many more specimens lay waiting in the permafrost.
FISH HOOK, 2001
The discovery of Jarkov marked the beginning of many subsequent spectacular discoveries. The Markel Mammoth, on the Taimyr Peninsula, had already been partially uncovered by a Dolgan family when the Mammuthus team arrived on the scene. The tusks had disappeared but the skeleton was nearly completely recovered.
In the same region, the Fish Hook Mammoth had been discovered in 1987. This 20,000 year-old fossil was previously the subject of a failed excavation. The Mammuthus team managed to salvage the specimen with important sediments and the characteristic woolly coat in tact.
The head of the Yukagir Mammoth had first been spotted in 2002 near a river in Yakutia. Three expeditions spanning 2003-2004 allowed the team to recover much of the skeleton as well as the remarkably wellpreserved front left leg.
Cherskyi, a female woolly rhinoceros aged 39,000 years, is a unique specimen of a perhaps lesserknown lost species. Each new discovery draws on the technical skill of numerous experts through the conservation and analysis process. The smallest mistake can compromise irreplaceable information. Immediate surroundings sampled from the investigation give clues to the animal's environment. Pollen, plants and parasites are also important clues to preserve for the analytic process.
Female baby mammoth Lyuba lived a short life 42,000 years ago. When she was discovered not far from the Yuribey River in 2007, her stomach still contained traces of maternal milk.
The People of the North
After the long Arctic night,
the return of the sun is heralded in Taimyr with a great festival. The Dolgans, one of many ethnic nomadic groups that consider the tundra their home, gather in large numbers for this celebration every year. It was at this festival roughly fifteen years ago that Bernard Buigues first became familiar with a people whose hospitality and culture would become intimately familiar to him during subsequent returns to Taimyr. Their familiarity with the tundra makes them superior navigators and guides through an otherwise hostile environment. Among 6,000 Dolgans, only a handful of families are still leading nomadic lives. Their livelihood is derived from hunting and fishing, as well as raising and herding reindeer. In search of grazing grounds for their herd, they traverse the tundra. This constant movement has taught them to read the tundra like a book. What may seem like a vast expanse of
Yuri Khudi, Nenet.
Discoverer of baby mammoth Lyuba
nal uses and offers a small fortune white monotony to the uninitiated to those who seek out the material. visitor is an ancestral path to these This trade allows the economically nomads. disadvantaged Dolgans to trade for During the course of their seasonal modern goods that have become migrations, they sometimes happen part of their lifestyles: ammunition upon a mammoth having emerged for hunting, snowmobiles, fossil fuel, from the ground. For the Dolgans, sugar. The older generation is wary such an encounter has long been of the ivory trade. Some who strive an unwelcome ill omen. Still, they to protect their culture are opposed make use of what is provided and in to this new influence. a landscape where wood and metal are hard to come by, ivory is an ideal The Jarkov family explained all of material to craft into durable tools: this to Bernard Buigues before they harnesses, buttons and spoons. led him to the spot where they had Today more and more foreign, often found two tusks emerging from the manufactured materials have been permafrost. The first major success introduced to this remote region. But of Mammuthus owes much to this the mammoth has not lost its value. family and thus bears their name: International trade in mammoth the Jarkov Mammoth. Sensible to ivory has largely replaced traditio- the traditions of the people in the
tundra, Bernard Buigues learned how to respect their ways and in time he learned how to share his passion for the cultural and scientific heritage of their ancestral home. He ensures that his expeditions reflect a balance of research-driven inquiry and deference to the cultures and people who make it possible. Today the nomadic peoples of the tundra are among the most enthusiastic supporters of Mammuthus. Not only the Dolgans but also the Yukagirs, the Yakuts and the Nenets play an essential and contributing role to the program's mission of protecting and preserving the region's unique heritage. This partnership formed across all boundaries and united by a shared vision is a key asset of Mammuthus and a source of strength.
Piotr Jarkov, Dolgan.
Discoverer of Jarkov Mammoth
Baby mammoth Lyuba • March 2010, medical imagery: CT scan and MRI, in cooperation with General Electric (GE), Michigan (United States) • September 2010, medical imagery: complete body scan in cooperation with Ford Motor Company, under the direction of Mammuthus scientist Pr. Dan Fisher Baby mammoth Khroma • July 2010, irradiation treatment in cooperation with ARCNucléart, Grenoble (France) • August 2010, medical imagery : MRI scan in cooperation with GE, Clermont Ferrand (France) • August 2010, autopsy and sampling for analysis, at Hospital of Puy en Velay (France). Determination of gender and cause of death.
Popigay region, TaImyr Discovery of a mammoth skeleton in Korzo Lake Batagay region, YAKUTIA Continued monitoring of a unique site dubbed the "Tadpole", a gaping hole in the permafrost expanding due to natural feedback loops. Discovery of a horse (not dated), a baby bison (not dated) and several mammoth fossils. Bokh-Khaya region, YAKUTIA, north-east of Tiksi Discovery of a baby elk (not dated) Southern region of NOVAYA ZEMLYA Research on insular populations of mammoth.
Baby mammoth Khroma • Studies on the aural and vocal structures • Genetic studies Other • Comparative studies between Khroma and Lyuba, comparative studies with baby elephants • Primary analysis of recent discoveries: baby bison, horse, elk and woolly rhinoceros. • Research on paleo-microorganisms found together with fossil specimens • Establishment of a permanent observation station at the "Tadpole" in Batagay (Yakutia)
August 2011 YAKUTIA Batagay region Observation and study program dedicated to the climate's effect on the permafrost. May, June and October 2011 YAMAL Yuribey River region Excavation of two adult mammoth specimens. September 2011 YAKUTIA Kotelny Island Program dedicated to insular mammoth population. Exploration of the island, excavation of a mammoth discovered in 2010 August - September 2011 CHUKOTKA Wrangel Island Program dedicated to the study of Holocene mammoths (allegedly vsurvived 7,000 years longer than their continental counterparts) July 2011 TAIMyR, Popigay region Recovery of a mammoth skeleton discovered in a lake
« The partnerships and collaborations in place with different universities
and research institutes, in France and abroad, are exemplary and I extend to you the full support of my ministry. » Valérie Pécresse, Minister of Higher Education and Research, France. April 2011.
France. Mammuthus since 1998. Professor at the Collège de France, Paleontologie and Prehistory Chair Member of the French Académie des Sciences
Russia. Mammuthus since 1998. Doctor of Science. Vice President of the Institute of Zoology of Saint Petersburg Scientific Secretary of the "Russian Mammoth Committee"
USA. Mammuthus since 1999. Professor, Curator, Museum of Paleontology, University of Michigan Specialist in mammoth and mastodon tusks
France. Professor emeritus at the National Museum of Natural History (Paris, France) President of the French Association for the Advancement of Sciences
France. Director of Research at the French National Center for Scientific Research Specialist of paleogenetics of Quaternary mammals Director of PALGENE, French national platform for paleogenetics at ENS in Lyon.
Russia. Professor, Director of Mammoth Museum in Yakutsk Advisor to the Presidency of the Sakha Republic
• University of Michigan • University of Penn State • University of Minnesota • University of Utah • The Field Museum, Chicago
• Jikei University, Tokyo
• Center for Isotope Research, University of Groningen • University of Amsterdam • Nature Museum of Rotterdam
• McMaster University, Toronto
• National Museum of Natural History, Paris • Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS | CNRS), Lyon • Collège de France, Paris • Pasteur Institute, Paris • ARC-Nucleart (CEA), Grenoble • Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum
France. Doctor of phylogenetic systematics, National Museum of Natural History (Paris, France). Specialist in Ancient DNA, Ancient DNA Center, McMaster University Canada
France. Doctor of vertebrate paleontology at the Musée Crozatier at Le Puy en Velay (France) President of the Scientific Committee of the 5th International Mammoth Conference Secretary of CNF - INQUA
• Institute of Zoology and Bioengineering, Russian Academy of Sciences, Saint Petersburg • Kurchatov Institute, Moscow • Institute of History and Material Culture, Russian Academy of Sciences, Saint Petersburg • Institute of Applied Ecology of the North, Yakoutsk, Siberia • Melnikov Permafrost Institute, Yakoutsk, Siberia
• Niels Bohr Institute, Copenhagen
Recent Visibility Press
National Geographic Magazine Le Monde 2 Paris Match Science & Vie Science et Avenir Figaro Magazine Le Parisien
Recent scientific publications
“Early Tooth Development, Gestation, and Season of Birth in Mammoths” Quaternary International January 31, (2011). “Sequencing the nuclear genome of the extinct woolly mammoth” Nature, vol 456: 387-90 (2008). “The earliest immigration of woolly rhinoceros (Coelodonta tologoijensis, Rhinocerotidae, Mammalia) into Europe and its adaptive evolution in Palearctic cold stage mammal faunas” Quaternary Science Reviews, vol 27: 1951-1961 (2008). “The ecological implications of a Yakutian mammoth’s last meal” Quaternary Science Reviews, vol 69: 361-376 (2008). “Intraspecific phylogenetic analysis of Siberian woolly mammoths using complete mitochondrial genomes” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol 105: 8327-8332 (2008). “Whole-genome shotgun sequencing of mitochondria from ancient hair shafts” Science, vol 317: 1927–30 (2007). “Metagenomics to Paleogenomics: Large-Scale Sequencing of Mammoth DNA” Science, vol 311: 392–394 (2006). “Radiocarbon Chronologies and Extinction Dynamics of the Late Quaternary Mammalian Megafauna of the Taimyr Peninsula, Russian Federation” Journal of Archæological Science, vol 29: 1017-1042 (2006). “Results of the Cerpolex / Mammuthus Expeditions on the Taïmyr Peninsula, Arctic Siberia, Russian Federation” Quaternary International, vol 142: 186-202 (2006).
France 2 and France 5 : Documentary « Le réveil du bébé Mammouth » France 2 Magazine 13:15, JT 13h National Geographic Channel
Baby Mammoth Mummy frozen in time! , Christopher Sloan, ed. National Geographic Children’s Books Dolgans, Francis Latreille, ed. M.C.E
June - November 2010, Musée Crozatier in Puy en Velay (France) March - September 2010, The Field Museum Chicago October 2010 - January 2011 Liberty Science Center, Jersey city, NJ
August - September 2010, 5th International Mammoth Conference, Puy en Velay (France) September 2009, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in Bristol, Great Britain
E x p l o ra t i o n . S c i e n ce . Pe o p l e
Carbon Neutral Expeditions
Knowledge Partner :
© 2011. Photos: Francis Latreille. Map: Benjamin Flao. Graphic Design: Victor Gurrey.