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This Terrible Mammoth Drawing Was an Important Key for 19th-Century Naturalists

Who would've thought that a hunting activity for reindeer with his family would lead Ossip Shumachov to spot a strange, dark lump poking out of the ice, which consequently led to a yearly ritual of checking it, and eventually revealed a long-dead and largely intact carcass of a mammoth? And who would've thought that sketching it would be a great help in documenting the Animal Kingdom's history?

The drawing is crude, and depicts a strange swine-like creature with tusks pointing in opposite directions. The sketch “is a very good example of a reconstruction hindered by extreme ignorance of basic animal anatomy,” paleoartist Mauricio Anton wrote in an email. “The body and legs are shapeless, and each foot ends in a sort of hoof-like structure unlike anything seen in elephants (or any other animal).” Even so, this somewhat laughable caricature was the first reconstruction of a mammoth known to science that was based on more than bones, McKay writes on his blog Mammoth Tales. Much to the chagrin of stuffy Russian biologists, it played a pivotal role in science’s early understanding of mammoth anatomy.

Image credit: Roman Boltunov

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