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Thawing Arctic permafrost reveals prehistoric warehouse: remains of mammoths, woolly rhinos and lions for sale to highest bidder

Posted by gmarkets on 25 September, 2007

According to Dmitry Solovyov in Chersky, Russia, one day climate change could cost the earth, reported The Sydney Morning Herald (22/9/2007, p. 20).

Big thaw, big money: For now, it was a nice little earner for Russian hunter Alexander Vatagin. In Siberia’s northernmost reaches, well above the Arctic Circle, the changing temperature was thawing the permafrost to re­veal the bones of prehistoric ani­mals such as mammoths, woolly Chinos and lions that had lain buried for thousands of years. “Last year someone was paid 800,000 roubles ($36,755) for a mammoth head with two tusks in great condition,” Vatagin said.

Easy pickings: A brawny 45-year-old, Vatagin had a network of helpers: the fishermen and reindeer herders of the Yukagir ethnic group, whose num­bers had dwindled to about 800. Vatagin regularly flew by helicopter to the main Yukagir settlement, Andryushkino, 200 kilometres west of the centre of Chersky, to view the merchan­dise they find for him. Prehistoric bones were easy to spot. The permafrost was thawing so rapidly that in certain places in the tundra, bones poked through the soil every few metres. Some lay on the surface. Mr Vatagin paid between 200 and 4000 roubles per kilogram of mammoth bones.

Profit motive: But it took a keen eye and local knowledge to find the really valuable stuff. Tusks, often curled almost into a circle and reaching up to five metres, were the most prized finds. A pair of good tusks was a rarity; two tusks and a well-preserved skull could be worth a fortune. Many of the bones retrieved by Mr Vatagin and his adopted tribe ended up at the Ice Age Museum in Moscow, which made it clear that scientific discovery goes hand-­in-glove with business interests. A museum official, Alexander Svalov, wore a ring identical to that won worn by Mr Vatagin. It was the symbol of the National Al­liance, a business run by the entrepreneur Fyodor Shidlovsky. The company ran the museum and held Government licences allowing it to excavate and export prehistoric relics. The chief executive of National Alliance said a well-preserved tusk can sell to private collectors for up to $US20,000 ($23,000) while a reconstructed mammoth skeleton can fetch be­tween $US150,000 and $US250,000.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 22/9/2007, p. 20

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