I've seen a few mentions of mammoths, +quot;frozen so quickly that the grass in their mout
I've seen a few mentions of mammoths, "frozen so quickly that the grass
in their mouths--their last meal--was still fresh!" This is usually cited
as evidence for a sudden catastropic change in climate. I have reason to
believe that these flash-frozen beasts never existed and the stories are
urban legends. The following is extracted from a book called _The Unexplain-
ed: A Sourcebook of Strange Phenomina_ by Wm. Corliss; the book reprints
the original documents from scientific journals about a number of
"unexplainable" incidents, of the type that might show up in the _National
Enquirer"-type tabloids. It is sometimes very enlightening to compare the
actual events with the claims made later.
The original article extracted here is cited as "Farrand, Wm. R.;
_Science_,133:729-735, March 17, 1961 (Copyright, 1961 American Association
for the Advancement of Science)" My comments are in ; the material in ()
is included in the article.
"...In contrast to scientific efforts, a number of popular and quasi-scien-
tific articles have appeared in recent years, in which fragnmentary knowledge,
folk tales, and science fiction are combined under the guise of veracity--
much to the chagrin of scientists and the confusion of the public. The most
recent of such articles is that of [Ivan] Sanderson, who comes to the
conclusion that the "frozen giants" must have become deep-frozen within only
a few hours time. Such a thesis, however, disregards the actual observations
of scientists and explorers. Adding insult to injury, Sanderson proceeds to
fashion a fantastic climatic catastrophe to explain his conclusions....
"...The cadavers are unusual only in that they have been preserved by freez-
ing; the demise of the animals, however, accords with uniformatitarian
concepts...The ratio of frozen specimens (around 39) to the probable total
population (more than 50,000) is of the order of magnitude expected
among terrestrial mammals on the basis of chance burials. Furthermore, the
occurance of whole carcasses is extremely rare (only four have been found)...
"...There is no direct evidence that any wooly mammoth froze to death.
In fact, the
healthy, robust condition of the cadavers and their full stomachs argue
against death by _slow_ freezing. [their emphasis] On the other hand, the
large size of their warm-blooded bodies is not compatable with _sudden_ freez-
ing. In addition, all the frozen specimens were rotten...only dogs showed
any appetite for [the flesh]...'the stench [of decay]...was unbearable.'
"Histological examination of the fat and flesh of the Berezovka mammoth show-
ed, "deep, penetrating chemical alteration as a result of the very slow
decay," and even the frozen ground surrounding a mammoth had the same putrid
odor, implying decay before freezing [actually, no--the ground could have
thawed after the mammoth was frozen and permitted decay, then refrozen. ERE]
Furthermore, the stories of a banquet on the flesh of the Berazovka mammoth
were, "a hundred per cent invention."
"...The only direct evidence of the mode of death indicates that at least
some of the frozen mammoths (and frozen wooly rhinoceroses as well) died of
asphyxia, either by drowning or by being buried alive by a cavein or mud-
flow...Asphyxia is indicated by the erection of the penis in the case of the
Berazovka mammoth and by the blood vessels of the head of a wooly rhinoceros
from the River Vilyui, which were still filled with red, coagulated blood.
"The specific nature of the deposits enclosing the mammoths is not known
well enough to be very helpful as an indicator of the mode of death or burial.
Most of the remains are associated with river valleys and with fluviatile
and terrestial sediments, but whether the mammoths bogged down in marshy
places or fell into 'riparian gulies' or were mired in and slowly buried by
sticky mudflows is not clear...in Siberia only mammoths and wooly rhinoceroses
have been found frozen and preserved...
"...so far no other members of the contemporary Eurasian fauna [except
mammoths and wooly rhinos]...have been found frozen and well preserved. That
only the bulky and awkward 'giants' of the fauna are so preserved points to
some pecularity in their physique as a contributing factor...the mammoth,
with his stiff-legged mode of locomotion would have difficulty on such
[Siberian] terrain and moreover would not be able to cross even small gullies.
It would be nearly impossible for him to extricate himself if he had fallen
into a snow filled gully or had been mired into boggy ground...
"The stomach contents of the frozen mammoths indicate that death occured in
the warm season...when melting and soluflication would have been at a maximum
and, accordingly, locomation would have been difficult.
"...Digby was impressed by 'countless riparian gullies' that would have been
ideal mammoth traps...Vollosovich...theorized that an animal so trapped
might fall on its side and act as a dam, being slowly buried and suffocated
by mud. The Berezovka mammoth is commonly regarded as having fallen as a
cliff slumped beneath it; its broken bones attest to such a fall...the Mam-
ontova mammoth perished in a bog...Quackenbush [wasn't he also Groucho Marx?]
believed that his specimen from Alaska perished on a floodplain and that most
of the flesh rotted away...
"...All of these theories are credible and can be accepted as possibilities.
There seems to be no need to assume the occurance of a catastrophe."
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank