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Getting Wooly Underground

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Mammoth museum in Khatanga, Russia. © Tom ArnbomMammoth museum in Khatanga, Russia. © Tom Arnbom

A WWF-led research team, a Canon photographer, and crew are traveling to Siberia’s Arctic coast on the Laptev Sea, to help solve a scientific mystery.

Some delays have silver linings. A delay in our departure from Khatanga actually had a decidedly cooler lining- a trip to the local woolly mammoth museum housed in a permafrost cave underneath the town. A short stroll up the river led us to what looks like a door into the bluff face. One door leads to another and you quickly find yourself standing on solid ice with frost crystals covering the floor and ceiling. Electric lights reveal a frozen museum of ancient bones: massive mammoth tusks and skulls, pleistocene aged walrus, musk oxen and moose and side rooms filled with various bit and pieces. A collection any Natural History museum would be thrilled to hold. Seeing it in this more natural setting is a real treat and rare opportunity. Later, we were treated to a tour of the local museum of culture by a Dolgan elder and then local reindeer for lunch.

The Taimyr region has 5 indigenous cultures. The peninsula splits the Atlantic and Pacific, and it’s also where migrating people from the south (the Dolgani- wild reindeer hunters), meet those from the West (Nenets but known here as Ngasani- nomadic reindeer herders). A perfect background for our adventure and a great way to spend our day in town.

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