Dima The Baby Mammoth

On June 23, 1977, the Siberian strip miner Anatoly Logachev was bulldozing a patch of freshly thawed ground when his machine encountered a tough, dark hairy mass in the earth. He dismounted to investigate, and his comrades helped him uncover the anomaly by hosing the area with warm water. Logachev had discovered the complete mummy of a baby woolly mammoth. To interrupt mining operations would cost him part of his livelihood, but for the sake of this remarkable find, Logachev did stop, and undertook to preserve the carcass, which acquired the name "Dima" from a nearby stream.

Because the body had been entirely covered, it was a very unusual discovery. The furry little beast was complete and in an excellent state of preservation. Though Logachev did not know it, he had discovered the finest mammoth mummy ever found. Blondish fur covered Dima's body, with the darker and redder adult hairs beginning to grow out. Analysis would later place the baby's age at six to eight months when it died. Dima seemed as if he could have been recently alive. Traces of his mother's milk remained in his stomach. He had stumbled into a mud pit and eventually succumbed there, sinking below the surface.

Dima's mummy had survived 40,000 years underground, but as soon as it was exposed to air, the clock started ticking. The carcass began thawing in the Siberian summer warmth at the mine site. Decay set in, and flies came. Logachev and his co-workers took the best measures they could: They built a tent to shield Dima from the sun, and they covered the body with ice to keep it chilled.

After three days of exposure, Dima was taken into protective custody by Soviet authorities. The mummy was brought to Leningrad for treatment by preparators at the renowned Institute of Zoology, under the best mammoth experts in the Soviet Union. Regrettably, the Institute preparators soaked Dima in benzene and then embalmed the body with paraffin, a one-two punch that removed almost every trace of hair and blackened the skin from its natural light brown to the color of pitch. Again the lesson is illustrated that conservation and preparation are critical aspects of special-preservation finds. As is so often the case with exceptional specimens, this one would have required exceptional care to preserve its phenomenally complete suite of data. We can only hope that future finds will meet with more fortunate treatment.

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