Lyuba’s star quality for AM exhibition
The 42,000-year-old baby woolly mammoth was unveiled on Friday at the Sydney Museum. Photo: Louise Kennerley.
Liam Mannix, Meet Lyuba, the baby mammoth who came in from the cold, The Sydney Morning Herald, 18 November 2017
She is 42,000 years old, and has come a long way for her Australian debut.
First, she was recovered from the frozen mud in Siberia that was her tomb for so long. Then she was packed into a crate at a tiny museum in Russia and flown to a humidity-controlled cube at the Australian Museum.
We will finally be able to see her from Saturday, when she is unveiled as the centrepiece of the museum’s Mammoths – Giants of the Ice Age exhibition.
Lyuba, who died at 35 days, is one of Russia’s national treasures, and the government is reluctant to let her out of its sight too often. This is only the fifth time Shemanovsky Museum has let her out, and it’s her first trip to the southern hemisphere.
The mammoth was first spotted in 2007 by Yuri Khudi, a Siberian reindeer herder, who found her as the frost thawed on a muddy bank of the Yuribey River.
When he brought a team of scientists back to recover her, she was gone; someone else had got there first.
The team tracked her to a village deep within Siberia’s frozen wasteland. She was propped up on the door of a shop. The shop keeper had reportedly bought her for two snowmobiles and a year’s worth of food from Mr Khudi’s cousin.
“And while she was propped up, a dog came up and chewed off her tail and her ear. If only for that she’d be completely intact,” says Trevor Ahearn, the Australian Museum’s creative producer.
Lyuba (Lay-oo-bah) means love in Russian. The museum has chosen to surround her with models of huge, ferocious adult mammoths, much as the herd would have surrounded and protected her in life.
It is thought her feet had become stuck in a muddy hole on the side of a Siberian riverbank. Before her mother could yank her out, Lyuba slipped below the surface, where the mud choked her mouth and trunk.
But the mud that killed her also contained sediments and bacteria that created an acid barrier around her body, in effect pickling her. When the river froze over, she was left perfectly preserved.
Had she lived a full mammoth life – 60 years – Lyuba would have grown to more than three metres in height and about five tonnes. To sustain that body weight she would have consumed up to 180 kilograms of grass and 80 litres of water a day.
Mammoths lived in the late Paleolithic period, which stretched from about 200,000 BC, the time Homo sapiens first emerged in Africa, to 10,000 BC.
Mammoths were uniquely adapted for the conditions, with small ears and thick, woolly fur. They ate grass and bark and roamed across Europe, North America and Siberia.
That makes Lyuba the first of her kind to visit our shores, and it took the Australian Museum a fair bit of what director Kim McKay terms “cultural diplomacy” to get her over here. Negotiations involved the Shemanovsky Museum and the Russian government.