Fossilized Woolly Mammoth Feces Found Alongside Exceptionally Well-Preserved Siberian Skeleton

Researchers have discovered fossilized woolly mammoth feces in a remote part of Russian Siberia.

A piece of fossilized feces—or coprolite—was found alongside an exceptionally preserved adult mammoth skeleton uncovered in northwest Siberia's Yamal peninsula in July, The Siberian Times reported.

According to the team that uncovered the remains, there is little doubt that the coprolite was produced by the mammoth in question. Furthermore, they say the fossil could help to shed light on what the extinct animal once ate.

"The coprolite was definitely left by this very mammoth, it is a very good find, as it can contain a lot of information about the mammoth's diet as well as the pollen of ancient plants, and a lot more," Dmitry Frolov, head of the Arctic Research Center of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District, told The Siberian Times. "We plan to study it throughly."

Coprolites are considered to be "trace fossils" because they are not part of the actual organism in question, but rather a product of it.

Technically, coprolites are the fossilized intestine contents or excrement of ancient organisms, according to the The University of California Museum of Paleontology at the University of California, Berkeley.

Feces tend to decay quickly, so coming across a coprolite is a rare occurrence. However, given the right conditions, fossilization does take place, preserving the excrement for thousands, or even millions of years.

Unlike in the case of the latest wooly mammoth find, it is often difficult to determine exactly which animal a coprolite comes from because the body of the organism is not always found alongside its excrement.

Parts of the Yamal woolly mammoth were first discovered by locals below the shallow waters of Lake Pechenelava-To in mid-July.

Since then, a team of researchers has been excavating the remains—the first adult woolly mammoth to be found in the Yamal region—scouring the area for more bones. The team says it has now recovered around 90 percent of the skeleton, including skull bones, ribs, feet and vertebrae.

woolly mammoth
Stock image: Artist's illustration of a woolly mammoth.

Remarkably, despite the mammoth being at least 10,000 years old—its exact age is not yet known—some bones, such as the the spine vertebrae and feet, still have soft tissue attached.

"The way it stayed preserved is unique as the back part of the spine was still connected by the remains of tendons and skin', Andrey Gusev, from the Scientific Research Centre of the Arctic in Salekhard, Russia, told The Siberian Times.

The researchers estimate that the mammoth once measured around 10 feet tall based on the bones that have been found.

"Whenever there is soft tissue left behind, it is valuable material to study," Yevgeniya Khozyainova, a scientist from a local museum, told Reuters.

Finds like this are becoming increasingly common in Siberia as the region's rapidly warming climate has led to widespread thawing of permafrost in many areas, revealing animals that have been locked in the ground for thousands of years.