Mad About Mammoths At Vienna Museum

A unique exhibition in the Austrian capital Vienna has proved a massive hit after bringing together for the first time some of the most famous frozen woolly mammoth remains.

The exhibition called “Mammoths. Ice Mummies from Siberia” which opened this week at the Natural History Museum in Vienna includes two mummified baby mammoths “Khroma” and “Dina” as well as the first ever complete mammoth to be found.

The mammoths were found in the vast Russian ice wasteland in Siberia buried in the permafrost and have been lent to the Viennese museum for the exhibition lasting until March next year.

The so called Adam Mammoth which is part of the display was the first whole mammoth to be recovered including flesh and skin by European scientists in 1799. The animal which is thought to be at least 45,000 years old was discovered in north-eastern Siberia by Ossip Shumachov, a local hunter. It is being kept in a special refrigerated showcase to allow visitors to have a good look at it.

The baby mammoth on the display, Khroma, was found in 2008 near the Khroma River standing upright and up to her shoulders in frozen ice. The soil had started to defrost and become eroded resulting in part of the body becoming exposed. In May 2009 the excavation team arrived to find that the body parts that were above ground have been destroyed by predators such as Arctic foxes but the lower parts were not damaged. To preserve the mummified animal it has been kept frozen since it was recovered and DNA analyses and CT scans have shown Khroma to be female. Research would indicate that she suffocated after falling into a mud hole or being caught by a mudslide.

Second baby, Dima, was discovered in 1977 when a digger operator found the remains in the Madagan region of Siberia. The male mammoth mummy is thought to be about 40,000 old and died before the age of one. Following the recovery research has suggested that Dima was not in good health when he died as he had only a thin layer of fat, showed signs of malnutrition and had been weakened by a severe parasite infection. He is also thought to have died after falling into a mud hole due to mud in his stomach.

Director of the museum Christian Koeberl said the popularity of the animals was because: “They are just as iconic as dinosaurs.”

Mammoth discoveries from the Vienna area are also on display with several molar teeth, bones and the thigh bone which was found during some excavation work for the north tower of Stephansdom, Vienna’s cathedral. The bone which was labelled with the year 1443 was hung above the main door to the cathedral for many years, giving it the name “The Giant’s Door” after the bone was mistakenly believed to have belonged to a giant human.

Scientific research on the surviving mammals has allowed for 70 percent of the gene sequence for the woolly mammoth to be identified but the curator of the exhibition Ursula Goehlich says they are a long way off knowing the whole sequence.

Goehlich has also challenged some typical views about the extinction of the mammoths in the exhibition saying that hunting by humans was probably not the main reason they died out. She pointed out that the population density of humans at the time was very low and there were many other smaller animals that they could more easily hunt. She believes their extinction is much more likely to be due to a lack of food with the changing temperatures.