In 2012, during an expedition to Siberia, a group of various scientists discovered a baby wooly mammoth, dubbed Yuka. How was mammoth ivory discovered? What kind(s) of analyses do scientists carry out to certify it?

Expeditions to Siberia

Rare Discoveries

Today, finding well-preserved mammoth remains is extremely rare. From those, whole or partial tusks (i.e. mammoth ivory) are gathered in very limited quantity. However, that quantity has relatively increased for the last few years, most probably because of the partial thaw of permafrost caused by global warming

Marketed mammoth ivory mainly comes from Siberia. There, the material is extracted, and then exported abroad. As the tundra in that part of Russia is most cold and barren, mammoth ivory has been well-preserved for thousands of years. 

Siberian Tundra 
(Image credit: International Mammoth Committee)
Expedition by Sledge across Siberia 
(Image credit: International Mammoth Committee)

In Siberia, temperatures only get above 0 °C (32 °F) in summer. Then, the local peoples happen to make out mammoth remains and/or ivory tusks made visible by thawing ice. They dig them up and sell them. Selling mammoth ivory helps those local communities make a living and develop, thus meeting their villages’ needs for several months.

Extracting Rapidly and Preserving Carefully

The locals extract mammoth ivory shortly after finding it and preserve it carefully, so as to keep it in good condition. Without such care, ivory pieces start to decompose internally and/or get tainted by airborne microorganisms.  

The natural mammoth ivory pieces TresOrient has in its gallery do not result from rash drillings of the Siberian subsoil. Personally selected, they all come from well-identified partners whose sites we visit annually to check and assess their operations processes. 

TresOrient cares about the local populations and their practices to ensure environmental and territorial respect. 

Certifying and Exporting Mammoth Ivory

The exportation of Siberian mammoth ivory is subject to a strict threefold inspection. Whatever their condition, each mammoth ivory piece is meticulously examined by independent certified experts.

Scientific Examination 

Through a first examination, scientific experts assess the academic value of the element(s). 

As for the young wooly mammoth dubbed Yuka, its state of preservation was unprecedented. So, scientific decision makers judged it most interesting and allowed an international research team to study the specimen and carry out much more advanced samples than those carried out on other mammoth remains such as Lyuba in December 2008. Nevertheless, Yuka and Lyuba have been outstanding discoveries over the last two decades.

Cultural Examination

The cultural examination is conducted by museum officials, notably some from the Orlov Paleontological Museum (Moscow). When pieces are aesthetically distinctive, those have the specific right to keep them for public exhibition.

Administrative Examination

Once the first two examinations carried out, the purely administrative one can start. This includes both item inspection and registration. Local, as well as national, authorities examine mammoth ivory pieces. The latter are in charge of issuing the exit permits out of Russia. 

Once those examinations over, items can leave their country of origin. 

However, they will be examined again once arrived in their country of destination. As for our gallery’s (i.e. TresOrient) pieces, they are examined by the central customs office (Paris) when entering the French territory. 

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