Woolly mammoths
Woolly mammoths existed in the Arctic about 400,000 years agoAunt_Spray/iStock

A frozen mammoth carcass dating back 45,000 years has been discovered in the Arctic with injuries suggesting it was butchered by humans. Up until now, it was thought humans first occupied the Arctic 35,000 years ago – so the find suggests humans lived in the region at least 10,000 years earlier than was previously believed.

The woolly mammoth was discovered on the eastern shore of Yenisei Bay, central Siberian Arctic. The male corpse showed signs of injuries on its ribs, tusks and its jawbone. After analysis, experts led by the Russian Academy of Sciences agreed that the injuries must be human-related, including attack from spears, and attempted chopping of tusks.

"During the hunt, they would have used both light spears – projective thrown from a distance – and then heavy, thrusting spears to make serious wounds to finish off the animal," study author Vladimir Pitulko told the Independent. "It was not a struggle, just a simple kill, almost murder."

"This is a rare case of unequivocal evidence for clear human involvement," wrote the authors in the paper published in Science. "Apparently, humans' ability to survive in the Arctic environment, and their spread within the region as early as 45,000, represents an important cultural and adaptational shift. We speculate that adaptation changes that ensured human survival there may be related to innovations in mammoth hunting.

Excavated woolly mammoth carcass
This woolly mammoth showed signs of injury from humans, suggesting they existed around 10,000 years previous to what we believedPitulko et al., 2016

The researchers began their investigation in 2012, when they excavated the carcass from frozen sediments. Subsequent carbon dating of the mammoth's leg bone, and some of the surrounding material, managed to date the carcass to slightly after 43,000 BC.

"Its bones exhibit a number of unusual injuries. Damage is seen on the left scapula, the left jugal bone [bone in the skull], the fifth left rib, and the second right rib," wrote the researchers. "These incidents suggest that humans inhabited the Arctic quite widely, although the population was probably small and remained sparse for a long time."

The researchers say they discovered other evidence of human life existing in the Arctic around the same time. They uncovered remains of bison and rhinoceros, as well as the arm bone of a wolf which dated back to 44,650 years ago.

Experts suggested that mammoth hunting allowed humans to migrate across the Arctic. This eventually became their path into Alaska, and into the New World.